QUESTION: We go now to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who’s in Moldova this morning. Mr. Secretary, good morning to you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good morning, Margaret.
QUESTION: Vladimir Putin has said that sanctions amount to a declaration of war. They are impacting his economy, but they’re not stopping his military. When will sanctions stop the fight?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Margaret, the impact of the sanctions is already devastating, which is presumably why he said what he said. But at the same time, we continue to see President Putin doubling down and digging in on this aggression against Ukraine. That’s continuing. I think we have to be prepared, unfortunately, tragically, for this to go on for some time.
QUESTION: NATO has said none of its 30 members are willing to set up a no-fly zone. President Biden has been very clear he has no interest in that or combat troops. But what more can the United States do here? If, for instance, the Polish Government, a NATO member, wants to send fighter jets, does that get a green light from the U.S., or are you afraid that that will escalate tension?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: No, that gets a green light. In fact, we’re talking with our Polish friends right now about what we might be able to do to backfill their needs if, in fact, they choose to provide these fighter jets to the Ukrainians. What can we do? How can we help to make sure that they get something to backfill the planes that they’re handing over to the Ukrainians? We’re in very active discussions with them about that.
Look, I’ve been in Europe for the last couple of days working closely as always with our allies and partners at NATO, the European Union, the G7 countries, and all of us together are continuing to take steps to increase the pressure on Russia through additional sanctions, all of which are very actively under discussion and will be implemented in the coming days, as well as taking further steps to give the Ukrainians what they need to defend themselves against the Russian aggression.
QUESTION: How do you convince Vladimir Putin that this isn’t ultimately about regime change? How do you get him to back down?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: For us, it’s not about regime change. That’s – the Russian people have to decide who they want to lead them. And look, as I said, the challenge is this: Vladimir Putin continues to press this aggression. That’s why I say I’m afraid this could go on for some time. But it’s going to end, and it’s going to end with Ukraine prevailing, because even as Putin has the capacity because he can – the manpower, the equipment that he has that he can bring to bear, can continue to grind down these incredibly brave and resilient Ukrainians, winning a battle is not the same thing as winning a war. Taking the city is not the same thing as capturing the hearts and minds of Ukrainians.
What they’ve demonstrated with extraordinary courage is that they will not be subjugated to Vladimir Putin’s will to – and be under Russia’s thumb. So whether that takes another week, another month, another year to play out, it will. And I know how this is going to end. But the question is: Can we end it sooner rather than later with less suffering than to – going forward?
QUESTION: President Zelenskyy has repeatedly said that these may be his final days. If Russia kills him, what will be the consequence? And are you working on a contingency plan to support a Ukrainian government without him at the helm?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: The leadership that President Zelenskyy has shown, the entire government has shown, is remarkable. They’ve been the embodiment of this incredibly brave Ukrainian people. I was just a day ago in Ukraine, at least about 15 feet into Ukraine with my friend and colleague, the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. The Ukrainians have plans in place that I’m not going to talk about or get into any details on to make sure that there is what we would call continuity of government one way or another. And let me leave it at that.
QUESTION: I also want to ask you about another massive diplomatic undertaking, and this is the attempt to negotiate a deal to put a cap on Iran’s nuclear program. Yesterday, Russia’s top diplomat, Sergey Lavrov, said he wants you to personally give him a written guarantee of exemptions from sanctions in order to keep cooperation on the nuclear deal. Are you giving him that? Is the entire Iran deal at risk?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: The sanctions that are being put in place and that have been put in place on Russia have nothing to do with the Iran nuclear deal and the prospects of getting back into that agreement. These things are totally different and are – just are not in any way linked together. So I think that’s irrelevant.
It’s also in Russia’s interest irrespective of anything else for Iran not to be able to have a nuclear weapon or have the capacity to produce a weapon on very, very short order. That interest remains, again, irrespective of where we are in our relationship with Russia as a result of its aggression in Ukraine.
QUESTION: What are the prospects for that deal and also two other aspects here – the American hostages that are being held by Iran right now? And do you see the prospect for Iran agreeing to stop threatening people on U.S. soil like they did a journalist living in New York, like they have threatened your predecessor, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We’ve made real progress in recent weeks on getting back to reimplementation of the JCPOA, the Iran nuclear deal, and I think we’re close. But there are a couple of very challenging remaining issues, and nothing’s done until everything’s done. And so unless we’re able to resolve a couple of outstanding issues, then we don’t get – we don’t get back to the deal. But we’re working on it right now. It is really coming down to whether we can resolve a couple of outstanding issues. If we can, we’ll get back in the deal. If we can’t, we won’t.
QUESTION: On those specific issues of stopping threats against those on U.S. soil and on releasing hostages, are those two demands?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We’re going to continue to do everything we possibly can to get detained Americans, arbitrarily detained Americans, home, whether it’s Iran or anywhere else. And that’s something we’re working, again, every single day.
When it comes to threats that that Iran is making, when it comes to actions that it’s taken outside of the nuclear area, including activities in the region, in the Middle East, that are threatening to us, threatening to allies and partners – again, irrespective of whether we get back into the deal or not, we will stand and act against those every single day. We were very clear when we were in the deal originally that nothing about the deal prevents us from taking action against Iran when it’s engaged in actions that threaten us, threaten our allies and partners. That will very much continue.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you for your time.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks, Margaret. Good to be with you.