QUESTION: Antony Blinken, good evening. Thank you very much for agreeing to answer our questions.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s my pleasure. Thank you.
QUESTION: So, when Joe Biden appointed you head of American diplomacy, we, French people, wanted to see it as a sign because you speak absolutely perfect French. You lived in France, in Paris, when you were a student.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Actually, you are too nice. In fact, the good thing is that since January, I have had the opportunity to practice my French, especially when collaborating with my friend Jean-Yves Le Drian and with other French colleagues. Indeed, I came to France at the age of 9. I stayed until I was 18. I passed my baccalaureate in Paris and then obviously, I’ve kept in touch ever since. I even came back when I was 30 before starting a career in government. I spent two more years in Paris. I made friends then who are still friends today.
QUESTION: Precisely, it is often said that the French and the Americans are like cousins. And yet, in recent years, we have also discovered sometimes rather brutally that we do not always think the same. You are familiar with both ways of thinking. What would you say? What makes us different sometimes?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Sometimes there are differences – nuances, changes in tactics, sometimes on issues. That’s normal. It’s normal in a family. It’s normal with friends. But, more important than our differences, are the things that bring us together on a deeper level. That is what I learned in my youth.
There are certain values, and we use these words very easily, but there is something behind these values, which we, French and Americans, are trying to implement. Liberty, equality, fraternity. That means something. The obligation to support human rights means something. And most importantly, right now we both live in democracies that are being significantly challenged, both internally and externally. I think we both see the same challenge: it is to show through our actions, and especially our collective actions, to our citizens, that we can obtain results that will improve their lives and, hopefully, the lives of people around the world.
QUESTION: Antony Blinken, the French people know you too, since you appear in one of the most famous photos of the last ten years, in the Situation room, near Barack Obama during the assault on Osama bin Laden. Would you say that it is the highlight of your career?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s mostly – it’s true that it was a highlight. The strongest? I don’t know, but it’s something that I remember because it was a moment of justice, if you will, because he was the one who led the attack on the United States for seven years. So it was a moment of justice for him, for us and above all, of course, there was some tension because the mission was complicated. And finally, it was a relief. But it is indeed an important moment.
That being said, I have to tell you that a few weeks after this photo was taken – I am in the background. We have a TV show, back home, in the evening, with a comedian called David Letterman, you may also know him in France, who showed a close-up of this photo. One of my government colleagues was on set with him. He pointed at me, and he said, “Who is that guy in the back of the picture? Is this someone who got lost because he was trying to visit the White House?” So, this moment is both a moment I will remember all my life, and one that will keep things in perspective.
QUESTION: Joe Biden has chosen to travel to Europe for the first time for the sake of the Europeans, with a very strong message: to restore a relationship of trust battered by the four years of Donald Trump’s mandate. How do you assess the damage caused by this Trump mandate in your mission?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I’m totally focused on today and tomorrow and the work we need to do together to face the challenges…
QUESTION: But when you arrive in a country, you must feel that these four years have been difficult and that they have damaged this relationship between Europe and America.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I remember two things. First of all, there is a resurgence of confidence between the United States and our closest allies. And especially with France. This is very important, and this for a very practical reason. When we look at the challenges that we’re facing – whether it be the challenge of this COVID pandemic, the climate, the emergence of new technologies that have major impacts on the lives of our citizens – we find that there is no one country acting alone that has the capacity to deal effectively with these problems and there is no wall that we can build high enough, strong enough, to avoid them.
So, at the moment, I think there is a need to work together, to find the means to cooperate, to coordinate, to work together. And that’s why President Biden wanted to focus on our partnerships during the first six months, our alliances with our closest friends, and our oldest ally: France.
QUESTION: Will it be a more balanced relationship? It is true that before, the United States appeared to be masters of the world. During these four Trump years, there was also a lot of humiliation. The Europeans have been forced to find another balance. It implies that you can’t go back to the same relationship as before. Do we need a more balanced relationship?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: In any case, you can’t go back because the world has changed and is changing extremely quickly. So, above all what we need is to work and face these challenges together and not look back. And that also involves, maybe, doing things differently. Listening is as important as talking. And I think we have done some important work, especially these last six months, not only in terms of our commitment to our partners and friends, but above all by listening to them – whether it is bilaterally, or in the G7, in NATO, in the EU – and that allows us to establish a joint approach much more effectively.
QUESTION: There is one point that we do not quite agree upon, and that is the way you see China. It is true that you consider this country an adversary, even a commercial enemy, and it is true that it is a tone with which the Europeans take a little distance, in particular Emmanuel Macron. Do you think we are being naive with China?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: What I’ve seen, especially these last few weeks, is a convergence with regard to the approach to China and I think we see it the same way. It is, for all our countries, a very complicated relationship that cannot be simplified with a single word or a single sentence. But what I will say, and I think we have the same point of view with France, is that there are antagonistic elements in the relationship, competitive elements, and elements of cooperation. And what’s important, whether it’s antagonistic, whether it’s competitive, whether it’s cooperative, is that we will have a lot more impact when we approach China together than if we act alone. And whether it is at the G7, NATO, or the EU, I think that we have seen a convergence in the declarations and in the decisions that have been made.
And I want to be clear on this, our goal is not to hold China back. It is not to establish a policy against China. It is to support a free and open system based on the rules and standards that France and the United States established after WWII, and which have served us well. Because if we don’t have a system where countries act according to the rules, respecting the agreements they have made, the alternative is war. It’s a jungle, it’s the law of the jungle, the survival of the fittest. And we know from our common history that it leads somewhere we no longer want to go. So, for us, the idea is to support this system with our allies and partners, not against China, but for a positive vision of the future and relations between countries.
QUESTION: I have two final questions. There is one area in which our cooperation is unprecedented. It is the military. France and the United States are working together, and in particular in the Sahel. We know that France is imagining another form of engagement in the field. Will the United States participate in the future coalition, particularly in terms of intelligence and logistical support? How are you prepared to continue helping us in the Sahel?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: The answer is simple. Quite simply: yes, we have a very important partnership with France in the Sahel. We have a lot of appreciation for the leadership of France. I think it makes perfect sense to rework the strategy. It’s obviously been eight years now since France has been involved with the Sahel and above all, we are trying to strengthen the capacity of our partners on the ground, not only to strengthen their military capacities, but also their capacities for governance and to create a future for their people. I believe this is the right thing to do, while obviously maintaining what it takes to counter terrorism, and we will do it together.
QUESTION: Joe Biden will receive Angela Merkel on July 15 at the White House. It is said that the United States chose Germany as their main partner in Europe. You yourself, a few days ago, said that there was no better friend of America than Germany. Isn’t that a little surprising given our common history?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: No, our common history is that France is our oldest friend. When we founded our country —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: France was there for our independence. Something we never forget. The best symbol of our democracy is the Statue of Liberty from France.
QUESTION: Will there be a meeting between Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yes, absolutely, there has obviously already been a meeting in Cornwall. A very, very, not only positive, but productive meeting.
QUESTION: Do you have an invitation to give to Emmanuel Macron?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I am sure and convinced that we will have the opportunity and the chance to receive the President of the French Republic.
QUESTION: Thank you very much Antony Blinken for agreeing to answer our questions.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.