SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good afternoon, everyone. Very good to see you all here in New York at the United Nations, and I have to say that I’m very pleased to be here on behalf of the administration, on behalf of the United States to help kickoff a critical 30 days – the Review Conference for the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
This has now been in force for 50 years. It’s made a powerful difference to the world in making the world a safer place, making it less dangerous, making sure that countries with nuclear weapons, including the United States, pursue disarmament; making sure that countries that don’t have nuclear weapons do not acquire them by upholding and strengthening nonproliferation; and making sure that countries can engage in the peaceful use of nuclear energy, something that is even more vital as we deal with the challenges posed by climate change.
This is a critical moment for the NPT. It’s a challenging one too because different parts of this regime are under challenge. And of course, we see that particularly in the area of nonproliferation when we have challenges being posed by Iran, by North Korea, and now in different ways, by Russia.
So the next 30 days, the work that’s being done here by countries around the world to reaffirm the Non-Proliferation Treaty, to strengthen it, to strengthen each one of its pillars – disarmament, nonproliferation, peaceful use – is more vital than it’s ever been.
The United States will be here in force over the next month. We have about 60 people on our team who will be here every single day working with any and every country around the world that seeks to strengthen this very, very vital regime, a treaty that has made a huge difference over the last 50 years and needs to continue to make a difference over the next 50 years. Thank you.
MR PRICE: Pam, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you so much Ned and thank you —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Nice to see you.
QUESTION: — Mr. Secretary. It’s Pamala Falk from CBS News.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yes. Good to see you.
QUESTION: We heard some pretty dire forecasts this morning from the Secretary General about nuclear annihilation.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: How worried are you about Russia-occupied nuclear plants in Ukraine like Zaporizhzhia – that doesn’t have supervision – or Chernobyl? And what is your worst fear about, say, Speaker Pelosi’s trip to China?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first on Russia and Ukraine, step back for just one second. Recall that when the Soviet Union dissolved, nuclear weapons were left on the territory of three new countries: Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Ukraine. Ukraine had the confidence to give up the weapons that it inherited when the Soviet Union dissolved because of commitments that Russia made to respect and protect its sovereignty, its independence, its structural integrity. The fact that Russia has now done exactly the opposite, that it’s attacked Ukraine unprovoked in an effort to erase that sovereignty and independence – that sends a terrible message to countries around the world that are making decisions about whether or not to pursue nuclear weapons. So just stepping back, it’s usually important to recognize that.
Second, and more practically speaking in the immediate, we’re deeply concerned about the fact that Russia has taken over nuclear facilities in Ukraine, particularly in Zaporizhzhia, one of the largest nuclear facilities in Europe. There are credible reports, including in the media today, that Russia is using this plant as the equivalent of a human shield, but a nuclear shield in the sense that it’s firing on Ukrainian from around the plant. And of course, the Ukrainians cannot and will not fire back, lest there be a terrible accident involving a nuclear plant. So this is the height of irresponsibility. It’s vitally important that the IAEA get access to understand what’s happening in these facilities and to make sure that they continue to be used in ways that uphold all of the necessary commitments on safety and security at the plants.
With regard to Taiwan, first, the Speaker will make her own decisions about whether or not to visit Taiwan. Congress is an independent, coequal branch of government. The decision is entirely the Speaker’s. What I can say is this: this is very much precedent in the sense that previous speakers visited Taiwan. Many members of Congress go to Taiwan, including this year. And so if the Speaker does decide to visit, and China tries to create some kind of crisis or otherwise escalate tensions, that would be entirely on Beijing. We are looking for them, in the event she decides to visit, to act responsibly and not to engage in any escalation going forward.
MR PRICE: NBC.
QUESTION: The Japanese —
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary —
MR PRICE: NBC, go ahead.
QUESTION: The Japanese —
QUESTION: Secretary Blinken, on the topic of grain, we know that a ship was able —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yes.
QUESTION: — to leave the port of Odesa today carrying 26,000 (inaudible) of grain across the sea. Can you give us an update on how that’s going? Do you expect more to get out to help the food shortage? And also, is that a sign that tensions might be easing?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So this is a good and important first step. We were pleased to see that the first ship did move. It does have 26-, 27,000 tons of grain, but keep in mind there are something like 20 million tons that are in silos and in storage in Ukraine that’s been held back by the Russian blockade of Odesa up until now, and it needs to get out. It needs to get out to world markets, it needs to get to places where people are in desperate need of food, it needs to get out so that prices also continue to go down, not up.
The test will be in the days and weeks ahead. It’s a start, it’s important. I have to say that the leadership of Secretary-General Guterres and the United Nations has been absolutely instrumental in getting us to this day when at least we see the first ship moving. But the test is now really in the days and weeks ahead. More ships need to move, more grain needs to get to market. That’s what will really make a difference.
MR PRICE: Reuters, Michelle.
QUESTION: Did you talk to Prime Minister Kishida —
MR PRICE: Reuters —
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Michelle Nichols from Reuters. You mentioned this morning that a return to the Iran nuclear deal would be the best outcome for the world.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yeah.
QUESTION: Iranian officials have signaled a willingness to return to talks. Is the United States ready to return to talks? And has Speaker Pelosi told you she’s stopping in Taiwan tomorrow?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Second part first. We do not know what Speaker Pelosi intends to do, but again, that is entirely her decision, and one that we respect one way or the other.
Second, with regard to the JCPOA, we continue to believe, as I said this morning, that that would be the best path forward, a return to compliance on both sides to the JCPOA, to make sure that we are putting Iran’s nuclear program back in a box and averting any kind of crisis. The EU has put forward a best proposal based on many, many months of discussions, negotiations, conversations. It’s very consistent with something that they put forward in March that we agreed to that we would pursue in March, but we – it remains to be seen whether Iran is willing and able to move forward.
So we remain prepared to move forward on the basis of what’s all been agreed. It is still unclear whether Iran is prepared to do that.
MR PRICE: We’ll take a final question right here. Yes.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Sir.
QUESTION: Did you talk to Prime Minister Kishida about Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan? And did you share any concern about it?
MR PRICE: I did not speak to the Prime Minister about that. I did have the opportunity to speak to him briefly this morning simply to say how powerful it is that he’s here on day one of the Non-Proliferation Review Conference. It sends a very strong message around the world. Japan’s commitment to disarmament, to nonproliferation, to the peaceful use of nuclear energy is both as a matter of history and as a matter of Japan’s leadership role in the world vitally important, and I think the Prime Minister sent a very strong message by being here today on day one of the conference. And I just thanked him very much for doing that.
MR PRICE: Thank you everyone.