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QUESTION:  And a good Sunday morning.  The writer David French once said right here on Meet the Press that Americans are so dug in politically that if you are 80 percent my friend, you’re 100 percent my enemy.  Today, the personal has become political.  In just the past few days, liberals cheered Major League Baseball’s decision to move its All-Star Game out of Georgia because of the state’s new, more restrictive voting laws, while conservatives have called for boycotting baseball, Coca-Cola, and Delta for opposing those measures.  Where you stand on vaccine passports and masks has become a marker for whom you stand with politically.  Washington is even arguing over the definition of the word “infrastructure;” it’s a debate with a $4 billion price tag.

And now our differences no longer stop at the water’s edge.  We’re polarized, left versus right, on immigration, on how to confront China, on whether Russia interfered in the 2016 and 2020 election, and so much more.  Joe Biden won the presidential election promising to bring us together, and the person who has worked most closely with him over the years on foreign policy is Tony Blinken.  He’s Mr. Biden’s Secretary of State, and Secretary Blinken joins me now. 

Mr. Secretary, welcome to Meet the Press.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, Chuck.  Great to be with you.

QUESTION:  Before I get to all of the various challenges you’re facing in this job, I want to start with COVID and the issue of vaccinating the world.  We’re miles ahead of most countries.  There’s – vaccine inequity is growing.  What is the U.S. responsibility globally, in your view, when it comes to vaccinations?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Chuck, I think we have a significant responsibility, and we’re going to be the world leader on helping to make sure that the entire world gets vaccinated.  And here’s why:  Unless and until the vast majority of people in the world are vaccinated, it’s still going to be a problem for us; because as long as the virus is replicating somewhere, it could be mutating and then it could be coming back to hit us.  But similarly, the world has a very strong interest in making sure that we’re vaccinated, because the same thing applies.  If the vaccine – if the virus is replicating here and mutating here, that’s going to be a problem for the rest of the world.

So we’ve taken a leadership role already.  On day one, we rejoined the World Health Organization.  We are the largest contributor in the world to COVAX.  This is the facility, the international facility to make vaccines more available, especially to low and middle-income countries.  We’ve worked a very important arrangement with India, with Japan, and Australia, the so-called Quad countries, to increase vaccine production around the world.  And we’ve made some loans to our nearest neighbors, Mexico and Canada.  As we get more comfortable with where we are on vaccinating every American, we are then looking at what we can do – what more we can do around the world.

QUESTION:  You recently named Gayle Smith, a longtime State Department veteran – she’s going to be the global coordinator here.


QUESTION:  The organization that she ran in between her stints in government actually has called on the United States to start distributing 5 percent of our vaccine supply once we hit 20 percent vaccinated.  Well, that has happened.  Is that going to be U.S. policy?  It was Gayle Smith’s organization’s idea.  Is that going to be U.S. policy?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, Gayle’s a terrific leader.  As you know, she was instrumental as well in dealing with Ebola some years ago and exerting American leadership to deal with that.  What we’re doing right now, Chuck, is – again, as we’re getting more comfortable with our ability to vaccinate every American – we’re putting in place a framework for how we will do more around the world to share vaccines with others.  So stay tuned for that.

QUESTION:  Okay.  But what – I say this – what is “soon?”  I mean, I look at – look at our hemisphere.  You talked about loaning to Mexico and Canada.  Brazil is an outbreak that’s out of control.  It looks like what we looked like four months ago.  Is this an emergency enough that you think – and look, the Brazil variants show up in this country faster than, for instance, a variant might show up from Asia or Europe.  What do you view as our Western Hemisphere responsibility here?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Look, our first responsibility is to the American people, and the President has been very clear about that.  But that’s also a benefit to the world, because, again, we have to make sure that people are vaccinated in the United States.  That’s going to have an impact on whether the virus continues to replicate and mutate in other places around the world.  But as we’re doing that, as we’re getting to that point where we’re confident that every American can be vaccinated, we will be leaning into doing more around the world.

QUESTION:  It’s a very vague deadline.  You say as we – there’s a lot of people say we’re there now.  We have contracts for doses for more people than we have in our population.  So what is “soon?”  Is “soon” weeks?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Look, the experts are looking at that.  We have to keep a few things in mind.  We have to keep in mind that we’re going to have a need – and hopefully soon – to be able to vaccinate teenagers, ultimately vaccinate children.  We also have to keep in mind the possibility that people will need booster shots.  These are things we don’t know for sure yet.  So all of that has to get factored in.  It is being factored in, but I am confident that we’re getting very confident about our ability to vaccinate every American.  And again, as we do that, we’ll be putting in place a framework to do more around the world.  I think when all is said and done, you will see the United States as the leading country around the world in making sure that everyone has access to vaccines.

QUESTION:  Where does the U.S. stand on the idea that’s coming from countries like India and South Africa that say, you know what, intellectual property claims on anything pandemic-related – in particular vaccines – should be waived right now?  Where does the U.S. stand on that?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So I’ll defer to some of my colleagues.  We’re looking at all of these questions.  But there are different ways of doing this, and one of the most important things that we have is this COVAX facility that brings countries around the world together.  We are the largest contributor to that.  That in and of itself I think is going to have a dramatic ability on our – on our ability to make sure that more people around the world have access to vaccines.  That’s what this is all about.  It’s making sure that access to vaccines increases and we’re covering as many people as possible around the world.

QUESTION:  What is our priority when it comes to deciding where we choose to have vaccine diplomacy?  Do we put it all to COVAX, essentially, and let them make those decisions?  Or are we going to favor allies first?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Look, I think you’re going to see a combination of things.  COVAX is vitally important, but there are efforts that we will undertake country to country.  And as I said, we’ve already done that in the case of our two nearest neighbors.  That obviously has – Canada and Mexico, where we loaned vaccines to both.  That obviously has immediate security and health implications for the United States.  You’re going to see a combination of things.  The ultimate question that we have to – that we’re grappling with is to – how can we be most effective in increasing access around the world.  That’s what we’re focused on.

QUESTION:  The origins of COVID.  The WHO initial report settled nothing.  Let me ask you this:  Do you think China does know this answer and they’re withholding it?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Very good question.  I think China – here’s what I think China knows.  I think China knows that in the early stages of COVID, it didn’t do what it needed to do, which was to in real time give access to international experts, in real time to share information, in real time to provide real transparency.  And one result of that failure is that the vaccine – the virus, excuse me – got out of hand faster and with I think much more egregious results than it might otherwise.

But this speaks to what we have to do now, Chuck, and this speaks to what China and other countries have to do now.  As we’re dealing with COVID-19, we also have to put in place a stronger global health security system to make sure that this doesn’t happen again or, if it does happen again, we’re able to mitigate it, to get ahead of it.  And that means making a real commitment to transparency, to information sharing, to access for experts.  It means strengthening the World Health Organization and reforming it so it can do that.  And China has to play a part in that.

QUESTION:  Do we have to get to – are we going to guarantee to the world that we’re going to get to the bottom of how this originated?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, I think we have to, because we need to do that precisely so we fully understand what happened in order to have the best shot possible at preventing it from happening again.  That’s why we need to get to the bottom of this.

QUESTION:  Are we prepared to defend Taiwan militarily?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So, Chuck, what we’ve seen and what is a real concern to us is increasingly aggressive actions by the government in Beijing directed at Taiwan, raising tensions in the straits.  And we have a commitment to Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act, a bipartisan commitment that’s existed for many, many years, to make sure that Taiwan has the ability to defend itself and to make sure that we’re sustaining peace and security in the Western Pacific.  We stand behind those commitments.

And all I can tell you is it would be a serious mistake for anyone to try to change the existing status quo by force.

QUESTION:  I understand that.  So it does sound like you’re saying that, look, we have commitments, and if China does try something in Taiwan, we will militarily respond?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I’m not going to get into hypotheticals.  All I can tell you is we have a serious commitment to Taiwan being able to defend itself.  We have a serious commitment to peace and security in the Western Pacific.  And in that context, it would be a serious mistake for anyone to try to change that status quo by force.

QUESTION:  Why – do you understand if China looks at what our reaction was to Crimea and Russia and think those commitments are not as rock solid as you just outlined them as?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, I don’t think that’s – I don’t think that’s true.  In the case of Crimea, in the case of the Donbas, the United States back then led a very significant international effort to impose real costs and sanctions on Russia for its aggression in Crimea, in the Donbas.  We’ve —

QUESTION:  How has that worked out, in fairness, sir?  I mean, it hasn’t worked out very well.

QUESTION:  Well, I mean, what we don’t – what we don’t know is would – has this deterred Russia from doing even more.  And as we speak right now, I have to tell you we have real concerns about Russia’s actions on the borders of Ukraine.  There are more Russian forces massed on those borders than at any time since 2014 when Russia first invaded.  That’s why we’re in very close contact and close coordination with our allies and partners in Europe.  All of us share that concern. 

And President Biden has been very clear about this.  If Russia acts recklessly or aggressively, there will be costs, there will be consequences.  He’s equally clear-eyed about the proposition that when it comes to Russia there are areas where our interests align or certainly overlap and we have an interest in working together, for example, on arms control as we did in extending the START agreement.

So the question is: Is Russia going to continue to act aggressively and recklessly?  If it does, the President has been clear there’ll be costs, there’ll be consequences. 

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, what you just outlined on Russia sounds like the exact same policy the Obama-Biden administration had towards Russia on this.  That was – that has not positioned Russia to be better actors.  That didn’t – that policy arguably didn’t work.  We’re not saying that Trump’s policy worked either.  What do you say to that?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, I say first of all we can’t go back to four years ago or six years ago or eight years ago – pick your year.  We have to deal with the world as it is now and as we anticipate it will be. 

What I can tell you is this:  The President before he was elected made clear that, again, when it comes to Russia’s actions there’ll be costs and consequences if it acts recklessly and aggressively, and you can hold him to that word. 

QUESTION:  You said during – I believe it was during your confirmation hearing – you said that China’s treatment of the Uyghurs was “an effort to commit genocide.”  And I guess I’ve got to ask it this way: How do you justify doing business with China or any country that you believe is committing genocide?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  When it comes to what we’re seeing from the government in Beijing, including with regard to the Uyghurs and the actions it’s taken in Xinjiang, yes, I think that’s exactly the right description.  And we need to be able to do a few things:  We need to be able to bring the world together in speaking with one voice in condemning what has taken place and what continues to take place; we need to take, actually, concrete actions to make sure, for example, that none of our companies are providing China with things that they can use to repress populations, including the Uyghur population; we need to be looking at products that are made in that part of China to make sure that they’re not coming here; but we also have to make sure that we are dealing with all of our interests, and what is the best way to effectively advance our interests and our values.  And when it comes to China, we have to be able to deal with China on areas where those interests are implicated and require working with China even as we stand resolutely against egregious violations of human rights or, in this case, acts of genocide.

QUESTION:  Some people think a proper punishment for their human rights record is to not to participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics.  Is that on the table among Western allies or not?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Chuck, we’re not there yet.  This is a year or so before the Olympics.  We’re not focused on a boycott.  What we are focused on is talking, consulting closely with our allies and partners, listening to them, listening to concerns.  But that’s premature.

QUESTION:  I’ve got to ask you about Afghanistan.  Look, the President made clear we’re not going to be there a year from now, right?  Whether it’s this May, June, I will cede you this sort of timeline here.  But let me ask you this.  How can – how are we leaving any differently than the Russians – the Soviets did in ’79 in this respect: 

They left; there was no real transition in place.  What – the version of the Taliban takes – there’s a civil war, they take over, we know what happened.  How do we not think the same thing’s going to happen again? 

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Chuck, two things here.  First, the President is committed to ending this war, to bringing our troops home, and to make sure as we do that to the best of our ability that Afghanistan never again becomes a haven for terrorism and particularly for terrorism that targets the United States.  That’s why we went there in the first place.  That’s what brought us there.

Look, ultimately, any peace that is going to be lasting and that is going to be just has to be Afghan-led, and what we’re doing now is really energizing our diplomacy to try to bring the parties together – the Taliban, the Government of Afghanistan, other key players, but also countries in the region that have interests and influence in Afghanistan – to try and move in that direction.  I don’t think anyone in Afghanistan, whether it’s the Taliban, whether it’s the government, and certainly not the people, have an interest in that country falling back into civil war.  They’ve been in conflict for 40 years.  If the Taliban, for example, wants recognition, if they want international support, if they are part of some kind of new government going forward in Afghanistan, that can’t happen; that support won’t be there. 

So we’ll see how the parties calculate their interests.  I think other countries also have to step up and help move Afghanistan in a positive direction.

QUESTION:  Final question is this:  Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, a former CIA officer, she’s asked the State Department to start to designate additional overseas white supremacist groups – we know that there are some international white supremacist groups around there – and designate them as foreign terrorist organizations.  Is that something you’re looking at?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We’re looking across the board at the increasing danger posed by white supremacist groups around the world.  And this is a growing problem and a growing challenge, so it’s something we’re looking at, and we’ll have to decide how we can be most effective for our part in dealing with the problem.

QUESTION:  Secretary Tony Blinken, we got through a lot.  I appreciate the time you’ve spent.  And there’s also a lot more we didn’t get to, but hopefully that’ll be for another time that you make it here on Meet the Press.  Thank you for your perspective and time, sir.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  With pleasure.  Thanks for having me, Chuck.  Good to be with you.

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U.S. Department of State

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