QUESTION: [Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for joining us. I wanted to ask you first about the upcoming summit in Geneva with Vladimir Putin.] Mr. Putin is now saying that he would turn over Russian hackers to the U.S. if we would do the same. Are we willing to make that kind of a trade?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: [Well, first, Andrea,] let me just say this: This meeting with President Putin is not happening in a vacuum. President Biden will be coming off a very successful summit of the G7, a NATO summit, a meeting with the EU’s leaders. And these democratic alliances are an incredible source of strength for us, a unique asset that Russia doesn’t enjoy, China doesn’t enjoy.
And we’re finding that we are able to bring them together effectively diplomatically, politically, economically, militarily. And that’s a very strong foundation upon which to engage the challenges posed by Russia or China, or anyone else for that matter.
When it comes to the cyber issues, and in particular ransomware, I don’t want to get ahead of the President, but one thing is clear. He is going to make clear that no responsible state can be in the business of harboring criminal enterprises engaged in cyber attacks, including ransomware. And that’s very much going to be part of the conversation.
QUESTION: But if he starts turning over or is willing to turn over these criminals, would we engage in that kind of a trade?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Again, I don’t want to get ahead of the President on this. I can just tell you that when it comes to ransomware, we are determined to do two things, and the President has already had us move out on this. We’re strengthening our own defenses, working closely with the private sector, because they control most of the infrastructure involved, but also to make sure that we’re using all of the assets that we have, including working with our partners, to disrupt networks, these criminal enterprises, to coordinate across countries to do that, and to insist that countries that may be harboring these organizations stop doing so. And again, that’s going to be very much on the agenda for the President’s meeting.
QUESTION: Will the President demand that Russia also do something about its own government hacking – SolarWinds, what military intelligence from Russia is doing – that Vladimir Putin controls?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Andrea, the purpose of the meeting is for the President to do two things, which he has made very clear already. It’s to tell President Putin directly that we would like a more stable, predictable relationship with Russia – and in that context there may be an ability to work on some issues where we have overlapping interests – but if Russia is going to continue to take reckless or aggressive actions against us or against any of our partners or allies, we’ll respond forcefully, as the President has already demonstrated with the response to the SolarWinds cyber attack, with the response to their interference in our elections, with regard to the attempt to murder Mr. Navalny with a chemical weapon. So I don’t think we’re going to get a clear and definitive answer from one meeting, but it’s the start of testing the proposition of whether Russia also seeks a more stable, predictable relationship or not.
QUESTION: It’s clear that Russia’s already taking aggressive actions, even in the days leading up to the summit, cracking down on Navalny’s opposition group, declaring them extremists. Isn’t that a sign that you can’t have a predictable, stable relationship with Vladimir Putin?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Look, we’ll see. That will play out over the next months or longer. We’re not going to – we’re not going to know from one meeting, from one day. And there are going to be clearly areas where there are profound differences and where we are – profoundly object to what they’re doing.
But we’re approaching this from – in a much different way and from a much different position. Across the countries that were involved in the G7 as well as NATO and the EU, there was a very significant survey that was done recently that found that, on average, 75 percent of the people in those countries have confidence in American leadership, in President Biden’s leadership.
That’s up from 17 percent a year ago. We’re now in a position, again, coming off of these meetings, coming off of our efforts, the President’s efforts to revitalize our alliances and partnerships, to re-engage in the international system – we’re in a much stronger position to marshal all of our forces – diplomatic, economic, political, military – to deal with challenges from any direction, including from Russia or China or anywhere else.
QUESTION: Putin told my colleague Keir Simmons that the U.S.-Russia relationship is the worst it’s ever been. Who is responsible for that?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first, that’s – that may be the one thing I’d actually be in agreement with with President Putin. That’s probably an accurate description. And again, from our perspective, clearly the reckless and aggressive actions that Russia has taken consistently are responsible – but we’re also prepared to have and would prefer to have a more stable and predictable relationship. I think that would be to the benefit of people in the United States, in Russia, indeed around the world. And there are areas where it’s in our mutual interest to cooperate, whether it’s on strategic stability, arms control, whether it is in places like Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea. There are overlapping interests. And the question is whether we can find a way to work on those and not see Russia take these actions that have been so disruptive.
[QUESTION: Do you think that President Biden can get Putin to back down on his threat to close down the last remaining corridor for humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees who are living in terrible conditions? I talked to some of them myself on my trip with UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield.]
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Andrea, you know – you’ve seen it directly – that there are so many people who are caught in the remaining crossfire in Syria, particularly up in the northwest, in Idlib, about two and a half million people.
There is no reason – no reason on Earth – why we shouldn’t have these humanitarian corridors, crossing points so that assistance can get in, including from Turkey, to help these people. And there is no rational reason why any country should object to that.
I very much hope that when it comes to renewing this – these corridors at the UN, because they have to be renewed – that Russia will agree to do that. And that will be, I suspect, on the agenda between the two presidents.
[QUESTION: The UN secretary general has criticized a big outcome of the G7 summit, in that he says that 11 billion doses are what is needed. Other critics are saying the same, that 1 billion is just a drop in the bucket and not soon enough.]
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Andrea, I think it’s quite remarkable that – the President said that the test for all of the G7 countries is to demonstrate that democracies can actually deliver – deliver for our own people, deliver for people around the world.
And this commitment to a billion doses is a significant way of delivering and to ending the pandemic sooner, as well as the commitment that the countries have made to come together to put in place what’s necessary to try to prevent the next pandemic, or at least be in a position to mitigate its effects.
But we’re not stopping with the billion doses. We’re working, other countries are working, to increase production in our own countries, to increase production around the world. And I’m convinced that these common efforts, starting with this remarkable contribution of a billion doses, will put us on the path to end the pandemic a lot sooner.
And by the way, we’re all about putting shots in arms, not twisting arms. Other countries that have been providing vaccines, like China and Russia, usually engage in coercion and demanding political favors for those vaccines. We’re not doing that. What we are doing is working with our closest allies and partners to significantly increase access to vaccines, distribution of vaccines, production of vaccines. We’re going to get through this pandemic a lot quicker as a result.
QUESTION: And I want to also ask you very quickly about the Havana syndrome. Congress has criticized the State Department – the prior State Department during the Trump years and CIA for not doing enough to protect our diplomats and our intelligence officers, and that this could come from microwave directed energy pioneered by Russia. Is this a mystery that possibly the President could bring up with Vladimir Putin and try to solve?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Andrea, the President and I are committed to getting to the bottom of this. My number one responsibility as Secretary of State is to protect the men and women who work for the Foreign Service and the Civil Service who are representing our country around the world.
And we need to know what happened, we need to know who’s responsible, and we need to make sure that we have in place measures to protect our people. The President has ordered that we make an intensive whole-of-government investigation to try to get to the bottom of this.
We just don’t have an answer yet. We do not know exactly who is responsible and what was done. We do know that there have been more than 200 reported cases of this going back to 2017. We do know that people have suffered as a consequence.
[And we’ve got now the entire government working together, the Intelligence Community, led by the CIA in this case, the State Department, the Defense Department, our health agencies trying to get to the bottom of this, making sure that we’re protecting our people going forward. So we’re determined to get answers.]
QUESTION: And any chance of getting Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed out of Russia? They’ve been held for so long.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Their arbitrary, unlawful detention needs to end. They need to come home. I have raised this every time I’ve spoken to my Russian counterpart. I know that the President will raise it with President Putin, and we will work every single day to get them released, to get them back.
[And I would say more broadly, one of the most egregious things we’ve seen in some countries around the world are these arbitrary detentions of people, basically holding them as political pawns. It’s an outrageous practice. Countries are increasingly coming together, led by Canada, to put a spotlight on this. And I hope over time to stop it. But when it comes to Trevor and Paul, we’re focused on getting them out and getting them home.]
[QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much. Thanks for being with us today.]
[SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Great to be with you.]