SECRETARY BLINKEN: Greetings everyone. Let me begin by extending my condolences for the passing of former Prime Minister Berlusconi. Mr. Minister, we’re thinking of you, we’re thinking of the Italian people at this time.
I am so glad to be able to welcome my friend Antonio to the State Department for the first time as foreign minister. We’ve seen each other repeatedly around the world, including just a couple of weeks ago in Oslo for the NATO ministerial, and today we picked up where we left off in an ongoing conversation, building on the close alliance that we share and the longstanding ties between our nations.
We, of course, discussed Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. We admire Prime Minister Meloni’s strong, principled leadership. Earlier this year in Irpin, the prime minister signed a Ukrainian flag with the words “at your side,” and that’s a very powerful description of the solidarity that all of us are showing for Ukraine.
Italy has stepped up in powerful ways, not only with military assistance, but supplying generators, electrical equipment to keep Ukraine’s power grid up in the face of Russian attacks on that grid; millions of dollars – tens of millions of dollars in humanitarian assistance from medicine to blankets. And, of course, Italy has welcomed more than 170,000 Ukrainian refugees into what is already the largest Ukrainian community in Western Europe. Our two countries will continue to support efforts to secure a just and lasting peace in Ukraine, consistent with the principles of the United Nations Charter.
Our Italian allies are, of course, vital to the stability to NATO’s southern flank, and I thanked the minister for Italy’s leadership in supporting peace and security in North Africa. In Tunisia, Italy has played an invaluable role in urging the Tunisian Government to implement durable solutions to the country’s political and economic challenges. In Libya, we’ve worked very closely together to support the UN-led process to find a path toward free and fair elections. Italy is making major investments in Libya’s oil and gas industry that will deliver economic benefits to both shores of the Mediterranean.
Italy’s actions have also embodied the growing strategic convergence across the Atlantic with the European Union, within NATO, and among the G7. Italy is a source of stability not only in the Mediterranean but also in Sub-Saharan Africa, and we greatly value Italy’s growing strategic partnership with countries like Japan and India as we work to promote a free, open, and secure Indo-Pacific.
As Italy prepares to assume the presidency of the G7 next year, we look forward to Italy’s continued leadership on issues of global consequence where we’ve been spending a lot of our time together – tackling the climate crisis, combating terrorism, safeguarding democracy, building food security, building global health security. All of these issues are front and center in our common agenda.
What makes our close partnership so productive across these many issues are, of course, the remarkable, enduring bonds between our people: ties of shared history, shared values; some 18 million Americans who claim Italian ancestry, including our First Lady Jill Biden – all of which helps explain why American visitors are returning to Italy in record numbers after the pandemic.
So on behalf of the United States, let me just say to our good friends, our close partners, our close allies, thank you. We are so grateful for the work that we’re doing together around the world. In many ways, it’s more meaningful than ever. The challenges are tremendous, the opportunities are real, and because of that partnership – notably the partnership between our countries is more important than it’s ever been.
Thank you, my friend, and over to you.
FOREIGN MINISTER TAJANI: Thank you very much, Tony. Allow me to speak in my mother tongue, in Italian. (Via interpreter) First of all, I’d like to thank Antony Blinken for the flexibility he showed today at a time that is very challenging for me, for Italy. He accepted to modify our program and to move up this meeting so that I could be allowed to go back to Italy. I am deeply grateful for that. I see this as one more gesture of friendship towards Italy, and I also want to thank him for the condolences that he expressed for our loss of Silvio Berlusconi. And being here today for me is a way to honor his memory because he considered the United States to be Italy’s best friend and he never missed an opportunity to thank all of the young American soldiers who have fallen to defend freedom and democracy in Italy and in Europe. And when before Congress, he said, “When I look at the flag of the United States, I don’t see just the flag of a country who’s a friend, but I see a message of democracy and freedom all over the world.”
That’s – these are in the foundations upon which the friendship between Italy and the U.S. are based. I’m here to restate today our strategic solidarity, which is not connected just to what is happening at the time. This is a longstanding relationship based on the many Italians that have come to America and who are today the children and grandchildren of other Italians. This bond is very strong and very solid. It is political, it is strategic, and it is based on a joint vision about freedom and democracy.
Over the course of our meeting, we agreed on all of the big issues, starting from the most dramatic ones, such as the war in the Ukraine. We all want peace but peace must be a just peace. It must be a peace that restates international rule of law and allows freedom to a people that were the victim of invasion. We agreed on the kind of work that can be performed in the Balkans, where we are part of the Quint format, and we can restore these and we can favor the entrance of countries that are candidates to become part of the European Union. We want the Ukraine to be a future member of the European Union.
We agreed on the action to be implemented to support peace and stability in the area of the Mediterranean, including Tunisia, which for us in Italy is a priority. I have explained to my friend Antony what the Italian Government is doing to achieve stability. We found agreement on the actions to be taken in the Middle East and North Africa, in the Indo-Pacific area. Italy is in favor of maintaining the status quo in that region. I also stated once again to Antony that Italy, with this government, intends to keep its positions. It will be a stable country. It will be a loyal country, serious, credible, and reliable.
And soon there will be the visit of the Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, who will meet President Biden in order to strengthen even more the relationship between Italy and the United States, which are two countries that are brothers for us. This transatlantic relationship, based on a common vision of NATO and trade exchanges that are very solid, this will allow us to solve any issue that might happen, and we will do so as friends. And under an economic point of view, we are in total agreement. We are two industrialized countries. We know what the issues with raw materials are. And in Africa we can work in this direction as well together in order to make sure that the market, especially for raw materials, is not dominated by others.
Therefore, there is perfect agreement. There is an action towards common purposes. And I am very satisfied of my meeting with the Secretary of State of the United States. I want to thank him for the showing of affection that he had towards me and towards the Berlusconi family and towards Italy.
MR MILLER: Four questions. The first one goes to Shannon Crawford with ABC News.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. As Ukraine begins its counteroffensive, its military reports that it’s up against a massive uptick of drones on the battlefield, and more and more reports suggest that some of these drones, or at least some of their key parts, are coming from China. Now, my question to you both is: Do you assess that China is ramping up its material support for Russia? And Mr. Secretary, will you bring this up when you are in Beijing, and also will you raise China’s efforts to spy on the U.S. from Cuba while you’re there?
And second, Mr. Secretary, we saw another American arrested in Moscow over the weekend. Do you have any updates on those case – on that case, rather – that you can share? And more broadly, does this administration’s willingness to engage in negotiations over detentions encourage these type of provocative arrests? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Let me – let me start with the second question first. We’ve been seeking to learn more about the apparent detention of Travis Leake, and we are working to be not only in touch with him, to have consular access, but also with his family. My number one priority as Secretary of State is the safety and security of Americans abroad, and this is – this is no exception. So we’re working to gather information to understand exactly what happened, and of course we will be very focused on this.
Look, generally speaking, there is always a balance to be found in working to secure the release of Americans who are being arbitrarily detained, which we’ve done very successfully over the last couple of years, bringing Americans home from many different places with, of course, concerns about whether any actions we take might further incentivize countries to engage in this practice. But that’s why, even as we’ve been doing this, we’ve been imposing penalties, imposing sanctions, including under the Robert Levinson Act, to disincentivize countries from engaging in this practice. At the same time, we’re working more and more closely together with other countries that unfortunately are similarly situated to us and having been the victims of the arbitrary detention of their citizens to make it clear to countries that do this that there will be a price to be paid.
But it is a balance. I believe we can do both things at the same time. At the same time, the countries that engage in this practice ultimately are simply going to further isolate themselves as people from around the world will have to really think twice, think three times, about whether they want to travel to any of these countries when there’s a risk that they will be arbitrarily detained and used as a pawn in some kind of political issue that that country may have with us or with many other countries around the world.
And that ultimately is going to be very self-defeating for countries that have an interest in maintaining contacts, remaining – maintaining relations, having economic connectivity with the world. They will be isolating themselves. But we work on this virtually every single day and we work to make sure that we get the balance right.
With regard to drones in Ukraine that are being used by Russia, we’ve been very focused on this, particularly the concern that drones coming from Iran are being used in Ukraine. We have seen that over many months, both to attack civilians, to attack civilian infrastructure. We’ve been very focused on trying to disrupt those efforts and the provision of those drones. We’ve been on this for some time.
We’ve shared concerns in the past with counterparts in China about the possibility that the provision of weapons to Russia for Ukraine is something that they might be considering. To date, we’ve not seen that line crossed. At the same time, we have concerns about private companies engaged in the provision of technologies, including dual-use technologies. That’s something that’s of much – an issue. It’s something that we’ve brought up in the past, and I know we’ll continue to bring up going forward if that remains a concern.
With regard to Cuba, when this administration took office in January 2021, we were briefed on a number of sensitive efforts by Beijing around the world to expand their overseas logistics, basing, collection infrastructure, to allow them to project and sustain military power at the greater distance. They were considering a number of sites around the world for that expansion, including intelligence collection facilities for intelligence collection in Cuba. In fact, based on the information we have, the PRC conducted an upgrade of its intelligence collection facilities in Cuba in 2019.
It was our assessment that despite awareness of the basing efforts and some attempts to address the challenge in the past administration, we weren’t making enough progress on this issue and we needed a more direct approach. And that’s exactly what President Biden instructed his team to do to address the challenge. And within months of getting that instruction from the President, that’s exactly what we did. We’ve been executing on that approach quietly, carefully, but in our judgment, with results ever since. I can’t get into every step that we’ve taken, but the strategy begins with diplomacy. We’ve engaged governments that are considering hosting PRC bases at high levels. We’ve exchanged information with them. Our experts assess that our diplomatic efforts have slowed down this effort by the PRC. It’s something that we’re very carefully monitoring and, as I said, taking steps to counter. We remain confident that we are able to meet all of our security commitments both at home and in the region.
FOREIGN MINISTER TAJANI: (Via interpreter) As far as China is concerned, I believe that a country that submitted a number of points to build peace cannot and should not provide any kind of support to a country such as Russia that violated international law. Therefore, I believe that China’s commitment should be aimed not at strengthening Russia but, on the other hand, to favor peace. Therefore, I hope that it will go in that direction.
Regarding Cuba, Cuba is a fundamental area, or country in a strategic area. This is an appeal that I launch to the Cuban regime, and that is to free many political prisoners. And in that case as well we must defend, first and foremost, human rights, especially also about Iran. Sending drones to the Russian Federation must be stopped. Those who want peace cannot contribute to support those who violated international law and invaded a free and democratic country.
MR MILLER: Massimo Gaggi with Corriere della Sera.
QUESTION: Thank you for having us. And to both of you, Tunisia is the top of an iceberg of a deep crisis in Africa. Given that a plan to stabilize this continent is essential for Europe and, frankly, for our democracies, do you see room for a pragmatic approach to avoid the default of Tunisia given that – the reservations of IMF, as far as I understand, are more based on market economy issues more than on human rights issues.
And if I may, specifically to you, Mr. Secretary: Do you have any memories specifically on Silvio Berlusconi that was recently criticized for his position on Ukraine, but that I remember that long ago he was a bridge to keep Putin very close to NATO and also to allow Mr. Erdogan to be as integrated as possible in the European Union? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I’m happy to start, Antonio, if there’s anything you want to add of course. On Tunisia, we very much share the concern that Italy has and that other partners have about the economic situation in Tunisia, as well as – as well as political challenges. And very much appreciate the work that’s being done, including by the delegation led by Prime Minister Meloni and also the President of the EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen to visit and to see if there’s a way forward.
We very much would welcome the Tunisian Government presenting a revised reform plan to the IMF and for the IMF to be able to act on the plan presented. But these are sovereign decisions. This is a sovereign decision for Tunisia; it’s not a decision for us or anyone else to make. But it’s clear that Tunisia needs additional assistance if it is going to avoid falling off the proverbial economic cliff. And what the EU and Italy have done, I think, is an important step, but something more comprehensive – that in our judgment the IMF can best provide – would be important to actually helping Tunisia get on a sustainable and positive path. But the decisions that are involved really are decisions for Tunisia to make, but we would very much support finding some way forward because it’s important for Tunisia, but it’s also, I think, important for the region. It’s important – it’s important for Europe, and we have a stake as well in Tunisia’s success.
After the Arab Spring, Tunisia was one of the most important bright spots in its trajectory – something that I had the opportunity to be involved in when I was last in government. And so we want to see Tunisia succeed, and we want to find ways to provide the support necessary for its success. But fundamentally, the government in Tunisia has to make decisions about how it wants to proceed, and we would hope that there’s a practical way forward that we can find with, as necessary, appropriate flexibility. And of course we’re in very close contact, coordination with the Government of Italy as well as with other partners in Europe on this. We have the same objective.
And then finally, with regard to Prime Minister Berlusconi, I must say I never had the opportunity to meet him or to work with him. He was obviously a tremendously significant figure in the life of Italy – in the political life, in the public life of the country. Many American administrations worked with him over the years. And for me, not having known him, I simply want to extend my condolences to his family, because let’s not – never forget in these situations, the people who are affected first and foremost is the family – but also to the Italian people for their loss.
FOREIGN MINISTER TAJANI: Thank you very much. On Tunisia, I informed the secretary-general on a trip of Prime Minister Meloni to Tunisia we want to achieve good solutions. We want to pave the way for an agreement. Of course, for us, we need to be pragmatic – to talk, to talk, to talk with the Tunisians for achieving an agreement between Tunisia, the European Union, Italy, also Monetary Fund, and for this also the position of the United States is very, very important. But we need to work step by step. The idea of the Italian is to put money – the first step of money, then reforms; without reforms, not the second step.
But we need to talk, we need to achieve good solution for the stability, because the stability of Tunisia, as the stability of Libya, is crucial for the stability of the Mediterranean region. Italy is strongly engaged on this. We will work in contact with our European friends but also our American friends for achieving good results for – in favor of the stability, peace, against illegal immigration, against terrorism. All together, this is a priority for everybody.
MR MILLER: Next question, Zeba Warsi with PBS NewsHour.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. First to you both on Sweden’s bid to join NATO, Mr. Secretary, you called Türkiye’s newly appointed foreign minister and emphasized the need for Sweden to be a part of NATO. Sweden has announced that it will extradite self – a self-proclaimed PKK supporter. Do you believe that will satisfy President Erdogan, or rather Türkiye, to clear the path for Sweden to join NATO ahead of the NATO Summit?
And secondly, on the Dnieper dam disaster, do you have an update to share with us based on intelligence reports? Can you say with absolute certainty that the Russians were behind it? And more broadly, what kind of an impact has that had on the ongoing counteroffensive? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: On Sweden and NATO, a few things. First, as we’ve said all along, if you look in the context of history, if you look at this historically, the process for both Finland and Sweden has been very rapid, and appropriately so given the fact that both countries have been longtime partners of NATO, among the strongest democracies in the world, members of the European Union. And of course, the challenge posed to European security by Russia’s aggression in Ukraine makes the matter even more urgent.
As I also said, it’s a process, and it’s appropriate that during that process every member of the Alliance be able to raise any concerns or issues that it might have. That’s especially true because a big part of being a member of NATO is the Article 5 commitment for each member to come to the defense of any other member if they are the subject of aggression.
So that process has worked, and in the course of it Türkiye was able to raise some concerns that it had. Finland and Sweden have both addressed those concerns, and in our judgment, addressed them appropriately and effectively. There is I think scheduled for later this week another meeting between Türkiye, Sweden, NATO to look at where things are. But in our judgment and, as important, in the judgment of virtually every other Ally in NATO – and Antonio and I were just at a meeting with our colleagues a couple of weeks ago – each and every one expressed the conviction that now is the time for Sweden to formally join the Alliance, for the accession process to be complete. And that’s certainly the judgment of the United States. So our expectation is that this will happen by the time of the Vilnius Summit in July, and that’s what we’re looking to see take place over the coming weeks.
On the dam, we don’t have any further information on exactly what happened. We do know that it’s having catastrophic effects on Ukrainians, and that’s in and of itself a terrible thing, magnified, of course, by the fact that this is happening in the midst of Russia’s broader aggression against Ukraine. But we don’t have any further information on exactly what caused the dam to collapse. Of course, Russia started this war. Russia is – was actually in control of the dam, and we’ve seen the results affecting so many Ukrainians.
FOREIGN MINISTER TAJANI: Italy is strongly in favor NATO for membership for Sweden. We would work for achieving this goal with other NATO members. I want to have Sweden full member during the Vilnius meeting. We will work for achieving this goal.
On the other point, we don’t have clear information for this. It’s much better to stay in silence, of course. We want to protect the civil population. We need to help the civil population. Also, Zaporizhzhia region is very dangerous for the same proposal during the meeting of the United Nation assembly to have a free zone around Zaporizhzhia, supporting the action of Mr. Grossi, general director of atomic agency of the United Nations.
MR MILLER: Final question goes to Andrea Gerli with RAI TG1 TV.
QUESTION: Thank. For both of you, Minister Tajani and Secretary Blinken, how do you evaluate what’s happening on the ground in Ukraine with a counteroffensive, and where would – where could it lead eventually?
And another question: What are the next steps of the cooperation between Ukraine and NATO? I’m thinking about the next summit. And is it possible that Ukraine joins NATO – well, a de facto joint partnership, not the (inaudible)? Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER TAJANI: (Via interpreter) I believe that we must follow a process that had been started a few years ago in order to have the Ukraine become an operational member of NATO. I believe that a substantial first step that can lead into this direction would be that of establishing a sort of NATO council with Ukraine that can see the involvement of Ukraine also in terms of information sharing and political information at NATO level. And this could be a first step towards entering NATO by the Ukraine.
Regarding the counteroffensive, I hope that it can help to make steps towards peace, because we all want peace. We are helping Ukraine because we want peace. Because if we did not help the Ukraine, Ukraine would be invaded and we would have a threat that is much greater towards Europe, and Georgia, Moldova, and many other countries would be at great risk. Therefore, we’re doing this to defend freedom and democracy. But we do want peace. So if this counteroffensive is useful to have the Russians retreat back from the Ukraine, well, this will give freedom back to Ukraine.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: On the counteroffensive, these are, of course, early days, so much too soon to say exactly where this is going. But I think it’s important to note that, as a result of more than 50 countries coming together in support of Ukraine, and particularly the courage and tenacity of Ukraine’s military and its people, we’re confident that they will continue to have success in what they’re trying to achieve, which is to take back the land that’s been seized from them by Russia. It’s very important to note that, in terms of what President Putin was trying to achieve in Ukraine, it’s already been a strategic failure, because the objective that Putin had – that he stated himself – was to erase Ukraine from the map, to eliminate its independence, and to absorb Ukraine, in one fashion or another, into Russia. That has failed and it cannot succeed.
But it remains the case that Russia has illegally seized almost 20 percent of Ukraine’s territory. And we both want – Italy, the United States – in fact, the Ukrainian people more than anyone – want peace, but it needs to be a just and durable peace. And by just, we mean a peace that basically reflects the principles of the United Nations Charter, including on territorial integrity and sovereignty. And by durable, we mean a peace that doesn’t simply leave things in a place where Russia can rest, rearm, and re-attack six months later, a year later, two years later. So this is what we’re working toward.
Ukraine’s success in the counter offensive would do two things. It would strengthen its position at any negotiating table that emerges, and it may have the effect as well of actually causing Putin to finally focus on negotiating an end to the war that he started. And in that sense, it can actually bring peace closer, not put it further away. So we will continue to do two things – and we’re determined in this – we’ll continue to maximize our support to Ukraine now so that it can have success on the battlefield, but also our enduring support is critical, support for Ukraine so that it can build up over time a strong deterrent and defense capacity for its military so that in the future, if Russia tries to pursue another aggression, it has the chance to deter that and, if necessary, effectively defend against it; but also to support its economy, to support its integration with the European Union where Italy is a leading voice; and of course, the ongoing process of democratic reform.
These two things – its military strength and its economic and democratic strength – these are the critical things that Ukraine needs to succeed not only to survive, but to thrive going forward. And it also sends a very strong message to President Putin that, to the extent he believes that he will outlast Ukraine, that he will outlast our countries, he’s wrong; and that we’re committed to Ukraine not just in the moment, but for the long term as well. And that gets me to the NATO Summit. I think – without getting ahead of ourselves, I think what you can expect to see at the NATO Summit is a robust package of both political and practical support for Ukraine going forward.
And this too, I think, will send a very strong message to President Putin that he can’t simply try to outlast any of us, that we’re all here to stay, we’re determined. The Ukrainian people, we, all want peace, but again, it has to be just, it has to be durable. And if and when Russia is prepared to engage on that basis, we’ll all be prepared to do that. But what we’ve seen to date is that it’s not prepared to do that.
MR MILLER: Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you, everyone.