QUESTION: Hello, Antony Blinken.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Hello.
QUESTION: Thank you for doing this interview. You just spoke with President Macron. It had been three weeks since he had met an American official. Three weeks ago was the beginning of the crisis when the announcement came that the Australians had breached their contract with France. The “contract of the century”, worth 35 billion euros, ended at the same time as the announcement of the purchase of American submarines. At that time, the head of French diplomacy, Jean-Yves Le Drian, expressed France’s anger and incomprehension. He described it as “a low blow”, of “Trump without the tweets.” Did you understand that France would feel betrayed by the Americans?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I understood very well and above all I was very happy today to be able to spend an hour alone with Jean-Yves Le Drian – a friend, not only a colleague, but a longtime friend, for whom I have a great deal of respect – and then indeed to be able to spend time with the President of the Republic. And I think we have noted two things: first, we could have – we should have – done better, in terms of communication. This is what President Biden and President Macron said to each other when they spoke to each other a few weeks ago. But above all, we sometimes tend to take for granted a relationship as important and deep as the one between France and the United States.
QUESTION: And we expected better, especially with the change of administration, and especially with you. You speak French. You are a Francophile. We expected a better dialogue.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: And exactly. We are doing better because, following the instructions given by the two presidents, what we have been doing for a few weeks now is going in depth, both in terms of consultation and communication, but also on coordination and cooperation on the most important issues binding our two countries.
QUESTION: Which ones?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Whether it is the Indo-Pacific, where we are going to be working more closely together or the Sahel, where there is already a very important partnership that is going to deepen, or the Euro-Atlantic area and its security issues, including both European capacity and then the renewal of NATO.
QUESTION: In the Sahel, does that mean that you have committed to greater logistical support for French operations?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: There is already very important collaborative work happening in the Sahel, which was demonstrated in a very successful operation a few weeks ago which was led by France and supported by the United States. We will be doing even more together in the Sahel. Our experts will be meeting to define this joint work.
QUESTION: What specifically did you talk about with Emmanuel Macron?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We said – I don’t want to speak for the president – but I can tell you what I said following President Biden. It is that there is now a very important opportunity, following the work which was entrusted to us by both presidents, to deepen this cooperation and coordination, whether in the Sahel, in the Indo-Pacific, or on transatlantic issues or even other issues on which we are already working together and for which we could do even more. To the minister of foreign affairs, I mentioned, for example, Lebanon, Libya, and Tunisia. There is bond and joint work between France and the United States which is deeper than ever and I find that we now have the means to do more and to do it better.
QUESTION: We often still have the feeling that the United States is withdrawing from these issues and leaving France to hold the bag.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It is not at all a question of disengagement, on the contrary. There is a commitment defined through alliances, through partnerships, through international institutions. If we define engagement as how many troops you have in such and such a place. That’s one question. If we define engagement by what your diplomatic, political, and economic engagement with your allies and partners is, then I believe that we are very committed.
And I would like to tell you something else: what is very important to us, to President Biden, is that if we look at the major issues of our time which have an an impact on citizens – in France or in the United States – whether it is climate, COVID, emerging technologies, we cannot do that alone. We cannot deal with these problems alone. More than ever we have to work with others and especially with our allies and partners.
QUESTION: Two years ago, Emmanuel Macron said that NATO was braindead. What is NATO used for today?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: You know, I thank President Macron, because thanks to him, a lot of hard work was done at NATO during the last Summit. For example, a project to define what NATO will be in 2030. How can NATO face the new challenges while remaining faithful to its original mission? Which means defending the Euro-Atlantic territory. All of this is underway. It is a new strategic concept which takes into account new challenges and new dangers. But NATO remains fundamentally what it has always been. It was a means of defense of the Euro-Atlantic territory, and I think that is still happening every day. Think for example of the countries who are now members of NATO which, for example, are not under threat (inaudible) Russians, for example. Without NATO, it would be another story.
QUESTION: Today we have the feeling that what interests the United States is above all the Indo-Pacific area with this new alliance with the Australians and the English. China is stepping up its show of force. What are we afraid of? Could the trade conflict between the United States and China escalate, including militarily?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: You know, the relationship with China, for us, or for France, or for many other countries, is a very complex relationship, which carries enormous consequences. It cannot be defined in one sentence. There are aspects of competition, there are aspects of cooperation, there are aspects of conflict. But whether it is cooperation, competition, or conflict, our interest is to be able to do this work together with others, with our partners and our allies, to face the challenges but also find a way to work with China, which is also essential.
QUESTION: When you supply, for example, nuclear submarines to Australia, don’t you just increase the pressure in this Indo-Pacific area?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: You know, the American presence, just like the French presence, in the Indo-Pacific, has been a means of guaranteeing security and stability over the past 70 years, and precisely this has allowed a climate in which the countries of the region, including China, were able to emerge, grow, find their way, and develop significantly. So, the interest of all these countries is to foster a free and open trade, the ability to have open exchanges of ideas, trade, and capital according to the highest standards. That’s what we are trying, together with our partners, to guarantee this for the future.
QUESTION: There is another aspect of international policy led by the United States that interests us, and that is Afghanistan. This withdrawal took place in chaos. We all remember the images of thousands of Afghans trying to get on planes to escape the Taliban. And yet President Biden spoke of success, of an extraordinary operation. Is there a misunderstanding?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Two things: for us, for the United States, it was our longest war. 20 years. We went to Afghanistan for a reason, a mission. We were attacked on September 11, 2001. We had to bring justice to those who attacked us and ensure that this could not happen to us again, or to our allies and partners. And this is a mission that was largely accomplished a decade ago. Osama bin Laden was killed ten years ago now.
QUESTION: Mission accomplished? But the Taliban have regained power. You left your weapons. We saw the Taliban dressed as GIs from head to toe, and we heard American veterans screaming in anger.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: The group that attacked us, al-Qaida, has been pretty much dismantled during that time. Osama bin Laden was brought to justice, as I told you, a few years ago. And for us, ending the longest war in U.S. history, ensuring that a third generation of Americans, were not sent to Afghanistan to be killed, was the right answer. At the same time, evacuating 125,000 people from Afghanistan, in a very, very difficult situation, where we were able to safeguard the airport, ensure that not only American citizens, not only Afghan partners, but also European partners and others who were in Kabul could leave.
QUESTION: Also, the Afghan partners, they are especially in Kosovo, in Macedonia, in Albania. How many have been received in the United States?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So far there are roughly 60,000 who are in the process of being welcomed into the United States. Indeed, some remain out of the country for now, a process has been put in place to obtain documents and so. This is underway. But I think we’re going to welcome about 65,000 by the end of the month.
QUESTION: One last question on the place of the United States in the world: what role does the United States intend to play? That of a protector, or policeman? Or ultimately, an observer who only meddles in what concerns him when his interests are at stake?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: For us, two things are very clear. As I was telling you, we have a deep interest in working especially with our allies and partners to try to deal with the biggest problems of the day, which is not a job for one country alone. But it takes commitment. Because if we are not committed, if we do not try, with France, with our other partners, to define the world we want in the future, one of two things: either someone else will do it, and probably this will not serve our best interests and our values, or no one will, and then we will have the law of the jungle, which we have seen in the past that does not work out well.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Antony Blinken, for answering our questions.