FOREIGN MINISTER AURESCU: (Via interpreter) Hello. Good afternoon.
(In English) Welcome to Bucharest, the State Secretary of the United States, Antony Blinken. Dear Tony, welcome to Bucharest. For me it’s a great honor – it’s a great day, actually, because this visit comes at a very timely and very symbolic moment at the same time because this year we celebrate the 25th anniversary of our Strategic Partnership, which is very dynamic, very vibrant. And let me confess that I’m personally attached to this Strategic Partnership since in the last 14, 15 years I was personally involved in the development of our Strategic Partnership. And I think one of the highlights was when I was serving as chief negotiator of the Joint Declaration of the Strategic Partnership for 21st Century between Romania and the United States of 2011, and also chief negotiator of the Ballistic Missile Defense Agreement of the same year that was one of the – and still is one of the great achievements of our political-military dimension of our Strategic Partnership.
And let me now switch to Romanian. Your visit – (via interpreter) Dear Tony, your visit in Bucharest takes place in this context that is very special of our anniversary of 25 years from the launching of the Strategic Partnership between Romania and the U.S., which is a main pillar of Romania’s external and security policy. And I am happy that even though we have several important events hosted in Bucharest these days – the meeting of (inaudible) leaders and also the NATO ministers’ meeting – I am happy that we were able to have successful bilateral discussions.
Our joint evaluation is that this partnership is stronger than ever, which is confirmed by the many beneficial strategic decisions and projects – beneficial both for Romanian and for American citizens in the fields of security, energy, and the economy. We have to be very clear that the joint goal of Romania and the United States is to continue to develop and strengthen this partnership – this Strategic Partnership. This is why we discussed today and we agree that the next round of Strategic Dialogue between Romania and the United States will be held in Bucharest in the spring of next year. We – together we reviewed the main progress in the Strategic Partnership from the visit that we had on – after the visit that I had in Washington in November last year.
I will just mention some of them. At that time were talking about increasing the military presence, the U.S. military presence in Romania, which happened. We have a solid presence of the U.S. in Romania, more than four – almost 4,000 soldiers. We also talked about consolidating the allied defense and deterrence position in the region of the – of the Black Sea. We talked about Romania’s joining the OECD, and again I want to thank the United States for their support in this process. We are already at an advanced stage with that, we are a candidate, and we are soon starting the negotiations for joining.
We also discussed about progressing in our – with nuclear civil projects, including in terms of financing. We also discussed about how important it was to have a positive report of the State Department on trafficking in human beings. And indeed, we already have a positive report on that. We also discussed about stronger coordination for the regional security challenges, and this is obviously happening.
We also have good news. Today we have a hearing in the United States Congress of the future ambassador of Romania – of the United States to Bucharest, sorry. And I’m happy that we have this coincidence, although I don’t think it’s really a coincidence.
We also discussed about a status of our joint projects in energy security. And beyond the very important projects that we have on the Cernavodă plant and other projects of the small modular reactor plants, both Romania and the United States have a shared goal to provide energy security for Ukraine and Moldova, the Republic of Moldova. And we discussed about what we can do from now on to improve the energy security of the Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova. We showed how Romania is supporting the Republic of Moldova by providing a very important amount – almost 80 percent now – of their power needs. We also presented the results of the trilateral that we created – Romania, Moldova, Ukraine – with a powerful energy component.
Of course we also discussed about the priority that we place on Romania’s joining the Visa Waiver Program, which is a joint goal of the – of Romania and the United States. And after my visit in Washington, we have a powerful dialogue politically and technically to prepare Romania to meet the requirements for joining this program. And we agree that we are going to continue with this collaboration, make it stronger, and early next year initiate the public communication campaign on this topic.
Of course we discussed about security and the implications in the region of the context of the war that the Russian Federation has initiated against the Ukraine. And again, we thank the United States for their unshaken commitment for the security of the eastern flank states, and especially for the security of Romania. During these days at the reunion of the – of the meeting of the NATO ministers, we are going to discuss about implementing the decisions of the Madrid Summit, especially those that concern consolidation of the defense and deterrence position on the eastern flank and in the Black Sea region.
We also discussed about developing our cooperation in equipping the Romanian military with modern equipment, as Romania has decided to move from 2 percent to 2.5 percent of the GDP for defense expenditure starting next year. And we also discussed about how Romania helps the Ukraine to face the consequences of the war initiated by Russia against its state. And I mean, the assistance that we provided to more than 2.5 – or .9 million refugees entering Romania, the support that we provide for these Ukrainian grain transiting Romania through our Romanian ports, the Danube and the Constanța port.
And we also discussed about a possible joint project to continue to develop the capacity of the Sulina Canal to allow more greater transit. Also, it is very important to see that all these efforts that Romania has put into developing its infrastructure are going to be very useful when we are going to start the reconstruction of Ukraine.
We also discussed about the strategic approach of the security of the Black Sea, increasing resilience in this region and making the Black Sea a safe, free, prosperous region – post-conflict, of course. We presented our own evaluations and projects in a document that is actually an update of a document that we presented last year in Washington, which will help the United States consolidate their strategy regarding the Black Sea and security of the Black Sea.
We also discussed about the Three Seas Initiative because Romania is going to host the summit of this initiative next year, and we have a strategic interconnection project – with the project ready to see on a project connecting Danske to the Romanian ports. And we hope to see a greater involvement of the United States.
We also discussed about many important aspects, but I think the most important thing is that today we agreed that our Strategic Partnership, now 25 years after its initiation, is not only extremely strong and solid, but it also has multiple other opportunities to become deeper and more developed. And the Romanian – Romania and the United States fully agree that they have to continue, develop, and deepen this partnership. We are going to continue our discussions at the NATO ministers meeting with aspects that have to do with the strategic importance of the Black Sea.
I want to thank again the Secretary of State. Tony, thank you very much, again, for this.
MODERATOR: And the floor is yours.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very, very much, Bogdan. And good afternoon, everyone. Buna ziua to all of you. We just concluded what was a very productive meeting. And I really want to start by thanking our Romanian hosts – President Iohannis, the Prime Minister Ciucă, my friend the Foreign Minister Bogdan – for their hospitality, but also, and most important, for their partnership, not just today but every day.
My first visit to Bucharest was in 1997. I was here with President Clinton for the announcement of the Strategic Partnership. And I remember that day as if it were yesterday – the tens of thousands of Romanians who packed University Square under the bright sun, the tricolor flag that President Clinton unfurled, and the pledge that he made: As you proceed down democracy’s long road, America will be by your side. So it’s a particular pleasure to return now to Bucharest 25 years later as we mark the launch of that partnership, but even more as we work together to build it out for the next 25 years.
When you do think about the 25 years that have just passed, it is remarkable the extent to which the relationship between Romania and United States has flourished. It’s a partnership bolstered by a robust and growing economic tie, energy ties, and investments that expand opportunities for Romanians and Americans alike; a partnership that’s strengthened by our cooperation in international organizations and initiatives like the Three Seas, which Romania will be hosting in 2023; a partnership rooted in personal ties dating back decades, but enriched every single day by the thousands of students, workers, entrepreneurs, and tourists who are traveling between our countries.
And it’s fundamentally a partnership that is rooted in shared democratic values – in international law, in our joint commitment to a rules-based order. The United States will continue to support Romania’s work to build robust democratic institutions to combat corruption, to strengthen even more the rule of law.
In Romania, the United States could not wish for a more stalwart or more committed ally. Romania hosts thousands of U.S. and NATO troops at air and naval bases in service of our NATO Alliance. We collaborate closely together on Black Sea operations, which are and will continue to be an important strategic focus for NATO. And we stand united in the face of President Putin’s brutal war against Ukraine.
Since February, working hand in hand with dozens of allies and partners around the world, we have acted with speed, with coordination, with determination to support Ukraine in the face of this Russian aggression. We’ve surged security assistance to Ukraine that has helped tilt the battlefield in Ukraine’s direction. We’ve choked off the engine of the Russian war economy with unprecedented sanctions and export controls. We’ve provided economic, humanitarian, and now energy assistance to Ukrainians as President Putin targets the infrastructure that provides heat, electricity, and clean water to civilians as winter sets in.
In each of these efforts, Romania’s leadership has been critical, and Romanians have opened their doors and opened their hearts to millions of innocent civilians, mostly women and children fleeing Putin’s violence, tens of thousands of whom remain here in Romania. Romanians have delivered food, water, medical supplies, and fuel to Ukrainians in need. Romania has facilitated the export of more than 6 million tons of Ukrainian grain, helping prevent millions of people around the world from going hungry.
And of course, Romania is hosting NATO’s Multinational Division Headquarters Southeast and other key command centers that will help strengthen NATO’s defenses on its eastern flank. Romania not only meets but it exceeds the commitments that Allies made to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense by 2024.
Now, we know that Romania is leadership in all of these efforts has come with costs to the Romanian people, as it has for people across Europe and, indeed, around the world. Russia’s war has raised the cost of energy, food, and other essentials for Romanian households as they head into winter. And the Romanian Government has been subject to threats and cyber attacks from Russian groups.
But I think it’s fair to say that few nations understand better than Romania, why it is so important to stand up for the right of all nations – big and small – to have their sovereignty, their territorial integrity respected, to insist that one country can’t simply seize the land of another by force, erase its borders, destroy its identity.
Having proceeded down its own long road to democracy and now standing up for democracy everywhere, Romania can count on America to continue to be by its side. When then-Vice President Biden visited Romania back in 2014, he said NATO nations never stand alone. That was true then; it’s true now. We will defend every inch of NATO territory. We’ll continue to invest in strengthening the Alliance and Romania’s leadership in that Alliance. We’ve provided more than $120 million in security assistance to Romania just this past year. And as President Biden announced at the NATO Summit in Madrid, the United States will headquarter a rotational brigade combat team here in Romania.
We’ll keep supporting Romania’s humanitarian leadership. Since February we’ve contributed over $48 million to humanitarian assistance programs in Romania for Ukrainian refugees. We’ll help bolster Romania’s energy resilience. Earlier this month, at COP27, our climate envoy, John Kerry, announced with President Iohannis that the United States will finance a robust package for clean, safe, reliable nuclear power for Romania to help make sure that Romania’s energy supply cannot be held hostage by Russia. We’re working together on a cutting-edge small modular reactor, as the foreign minister noted, which will strengthen Romania’s energy security but also position it as a leader in the clean energy transition, while also creating thousands of jobs in both of our countries.
Earlier today I had the privilege of joining Prime Minister Ciucă at the Romanian Athenaeum, where we visited a moving exhibit that celebrated the partnership between our countries over the last 25 years. Looking over those 25 years, I was reminded of the context in which it began: 1989, eight years prior, the Romanian people came together to stand up to a brutal regime. Right where President Clinton would give his famous speech, Romanians faced down tanks sent by their own government on the orders of an imperial power. They endured hunger strikes. They buried friends and family members gunned down by the police. And ultimately, they prevailed. The dictator fell. Democracy took root. The world saw the power of the Romanian people’s solidarity, and in the months after, Romanians continue to fight for their democracy united as one.
As we prepare to enter the winter months ahead, let us be fortified by the memory of the courage of the Romanian people in their darkest moment. Let us remember that unity was a key to their success, as it will be for ours.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Thank you. Any questions? Please. Yes. (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: One question for Secretary Blinken. Considering that this NATO ministerial meeting takes place in Bucharest, there is a lot of weight on the strategic importance of the Black Sea region from where Russia launched its multiple aggression against Ukraine since 2014 and now from February 24. Last year when you received Foreign Minister Aurescu at the State Department, you discussed a multiyear strategy for the Black Sea. What is the current status, state of play within the administration and the Congress of this document, and what role do you see Romania playing in this strategy, given that Romania advocates for more NATO troops and also for more military equipment?
And also, for Foreign Minister Aurescu, if you want to add Romania’s view on the matter since you earlier mentioned that you handed to your U.S. counterpart Romania’s evaluation on the matter? Thank you very much.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much. When it comes to the Black Sea region, this is an area of vital strategic importance to us and to NATO. We have three allies that are littoral states as our close partners, Ukraine and Georgia. Russia has turned parts of the Black Sea into a war zone. We’ve seen missiles from warships coming into Ukrainian cities and towns. Russian forces, of course, have blocked Ukrainian ports, causing what has been the worst food security crisis in years. And thankfully because of important efforts by the United Nations and Turkey, we were able to get the Black Sea Corridor moving. And of course, Romania has been playing a critical role in the export of grain and other foodstuffs from Ukraine to help feed the world.
So we are not going to be deterred going forward. We’re going to be reinforcing NATO’s presence from the Black to the Baltic Seas. And in that effort, we are working constantly between each other as well as with NATO to effectively inform and reinforce our Black Sea strategy. Romania is a vital contributor to that effort and of course to the broader effort of making sure that we have the strongest possible defensive alliance when it comes to NATO. As you’ve heard, contributing 2.5 percent of GDP above the 2 percent Wales pledge to defense; and of course, Romania in its own right is a key contributor to Black Sea security.
We are committed as we move forward to building a modern, interoperable military, and that will have benefits across the entire NATO space, including when it comes to the Black Sea. As I’ve noted, Romania hosts the NATO Multinational Division Headquarters South – East, which is NATO’s regional command and control node – this is a critical institution – a NATO Force Integration Unit, a fully operational multinational brigade. And we have at present well over 3,000 U.S. forces here in Romania.
So in all of this, simply put, the Black Sea region is a critical component of NATO’s defense, NATO’s strategy, but it is not static. It’s one that we continue to work on both directly together between us as well as in the context of NATO. It’s something I intend on bringing up later today when we meet with all of the NATO foreign ministers.
FOREIGN MINISTER AURESCU: Well, thank you so much for the question. As I mentioned, last year in November when I visited Washington, we discussed about the project of creating a U.S. strategy for the Black Sea. We considered that it’s very important to bring also Romania’s contribution, and at that time I have forwarded comprehensive document with the vision of Romania on how this Black Sea strategy should look like in our view. And the vision was of a comprehensive strategy to go beyond the security dimension – the classic security dimension and to add dimensions related to the freedom of navigation, to the resilience of the countries around the Black Sea which needs to be consolidated. And I have also included there – well – ideas regarding the development of the economies in the Black Sea region and consolidating the Black Sea as a hub and a transit point of – between Europe and Caucasus and Central Asia, because indeed Black Sea has a lot of potential.
After the war started in Ukraine, we considered that it is extremely relevant to think again in the new context what would be the – let’s say – main parameters of this U.S. strategy on the Black Sea, which is not just a U.S. strategy; it is far more than that, going beyond the vision of the United States, because I very much appreciated the openness of the United States to bring within this strategy the ideas and the vision of the riparian states, including of Romania.
So today I forwarded another updated version of that vision of Romania on this strategy, consolidating the approach, which is a comprehensive one, that was included in the document for the last November. And I hope that this would be of some interest and help for the new U.S. strategy, taking into account the current context.
And I want to say that it is not just the interest of the U.S. administration; it is also the interest of the U.S. Congress that passed a piece of legislation regarding the creation of a U.S. strategy. I have met the initiators of that bill in the margins of the Madrid Summit but also in Constanța on the 1st of July when the U.S. Helsinki Commission held its first ever meeting on the shores of the Black Sea immediately after the Madrid Summit. And I think there is a lot of potential in this U.S. strategy, and I do believe that the vision of Romania will be included and taken into account in that.
MODERATOR: Thank you. And France-Presse.
QUESTION: Yes, I’m in the back here in the jungle (inaudible).
Hi there. Leon Bruneau, Agence France-Presse. I apologize for moving to another region, but I do have questions for both of you. First, Mr. Secretary, there is a major showdown in a couple of hours, I think it is, between Iran and the United States at the World Cup in Doha. This against the backdrop of protests – massive protests for a couple of months of women and human rights and what have you. There are major geopolitical connotations to this game and a whole bunch of facets. The U.S. Soccer Federation was criticized because it played around with the Iranian flag. What are your thoughts on this game? And I’m not talking – I’m talking here soccer diplomacy, as you mentioned in Doha yourself. What are the geopolitical implications of this very important game, which I assume you’ll be watching? If I could also ask a question on China – very quick question, a simple question: Does the United States support the protests in China that are ongoing now, and what are your thoughts on the crackdown that is apparently happening?
And a question for the foreign minister. Thank you very much for hosting this here for this NATO meeting. I was wondering the – your country is on the front line of this war in Ukraine, at least in the impact – regarding the impact of that war. The United States and NATO and others say that they will support the Ukraine as long as it takes. And my question to you, to Romania, is: How long can you sustain that? And further, do you think NATO and the United States are doing enough? And lastly, does Romania want a permanent U.S. military presence in your country? And thank you very much.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. When it comes to soccer, or to football, as it’s sometimes more properly known, let’s let the athletes do their thing. I’m looking forward to a very competitive match between the United States and Iran. I will be cheering on Team USA. I plan to watch the match later tonight, and having seen them play in Doha in their first game against Wales, I’m certainly confident in their abilities to do well on the field. And look, I don’t think there are any particular geopolitical aspects to this other than that we have what should be a competitive game, and let’s let the game speak for itself.
When it comes to the protests – protests that we’re seeing in China, protests that we’re seeing for different reasons in Iran, in other places – our position is the same everywhere, which is that we support the right of people everywhere to peacefully protest, to make known their views, their concerns, and their frustrations.
FOREIGN MINISTER AURESCU: Thank you so much for the question on Ukraine. We have supported Ukraine from day one of the war. And this support was in terms of humanitarian support, in terms of support for the transfer of grain that I have already mentioned, so 8.4 million tons of agricultural products, out of which 7.1 million tons of grain. This means a lot compared to the Solidarity Lanes within the European Union, which amounts to about 16 million tons of grain and other products which were transported; and compared also to the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which managed to facilitate the transfer of 11.1 million tons of grain and other agriculture products of Ukraine. So it was a huge effort, and I think this huge effort will continue because I do think that we need to support Ukraine as long as it takes.
So there is no fatigue here about supporting Ukraine, and we will continue with the same efforts because we think that supporting Ukraine means in fact supporting the security of Romania, the security of the Romanian citizens, the security of the European Union, the security of the Euro-Atlantic area. Because the war against Ukraine, the war unleashed by Russia, is not just war about Ukraine or against Ukraine, it is not just an attack on the security of our neighbor. It is an attack of the security of the region, it’s an attack of the security of Europe, and attack of the Euro-Atlantic security. It’s about changing or the attempt to change the parameters of the Euro-Atlantic security architecture. And we have to respond in a resolute manner in order to protect these parameters and to ensure that the rules-based international order is ensured. And this is the mission that we have here in the front line of the response of the international community to what happens in Ukraine.
That’s why we are meeting here on the shores of the Black Sea, because this speaks about not only the role of Romania in this international context, and the work that we have done and we will continue to do; it is also about the strategic importance of the Black Sea in this context. And that’s why we are meeting today with Minister Kuleba in a session which is dedicated to listening to the needs of Ukraine in order to better support Ukraine, to coagulate our support in terms of supporting the defense capacities of Ukraine. We will have another session among ourselves dedicated to how to increase the support within the comprehensive assistance package that NATO designed in order to support nonlethal aid for Ukraine, and this effort will continue.
About a permanent U.S. presence in Romania – well, we have advocated for quite a long time for more U.S. and NATO presence in Romania. We discussed this last year. We have discussed this over the previous years. But now I think we have a very robust U.S. presence in Romania, a very robust NATO presence in Romania, but we have, of course, to continue to implement the decisions of the Madrid Summit, which are speaking about transforming the level of the battlegroup in Romania from the battalion level to the brigade level. We are speaking about assigning specific reinforcement forces from various allies to the various battlegroups on the eastern flank, including the battlegroup in Romania. We are discussing about how to implement the decision of the Madrid Summit in terms of prepositioning equipment. And we are working on these issues.
So on the road to the Vilnius Summit next year, we will work a lot on these aspects related to the implementation in concrete terms of the Madrid Summit decisions. Do you think NATO or U.S. have done enough? No, there is not enough – no time there is enough support, but we will continue with that because this is about our security, and it is about our values – our common values.
MODERATOR: Thank you. The press conference is over. Thank you very much.