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QUESTION:  Thank you so much, Mr. Secretary, for joining me.  I want to start with a speech this week that you gave.  You listed China first among the military and non-military threats to the United States.  This comes, of course, after you clashed with Chinese officials in Anchorage last week.  China is challenging the U.S. on cybersecurity, economics, and with its military, and committing what you’ve called genocide against the Uyghurs.  So do you consider China the United States’ biggest adversary?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Dana, I wouldn’t simplify it to one label.  There are clearly and increasingly adversarial aspects to the relationship.  There’s certainly competitive ones.  There are also still some cooperative ones.  But the common denominator is the need to approach China from a position of strength, whether it’s adversarial, whether it’s competitive, whether it’s cooperative.  And that’s a big part of the reason that I was in Asia last week, in Japan and Korea, and a big part of the reason that I’m here in Europe and at NATO and the EU this week.  It’s about making sure that as we engage China, one of our biggest sources of strength – our alliances, our partnerships – when we approach the challenges that China poses together, we’re going to be much more effective in dealing with them.

QUESTION:  You said at your confirmation hearing, Mr. Secretary, that you believe the Chinese Government misled the world about coronavirus.  Given that and the millions of people, of course, who have died around the world, should China be punished for that?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Dana, I think the issue for us is to make sure that we do everything possible to prevent another pandemic even as we’re working through this one, or at the very least to make sure that we can mitigate in much more effective ways any damage done if something happens in the future.  And a big part of that is making sure that we have a system in place, including with the World Health Organization, that features transparency, that features information sharing, that features access for international experts at the start of something like this.  And that’s where I think China, like every other country, has real obligations that it needs to make good on.  So I think what we need to be focused on is making sure we’re protecting ourselves and protecting the world going forward.  And that’s going to require a lot of reform, and it’s going to require China to do things that it hasn’t done in the past.

QUESTION:  That sounded like a no when it comes to repercussions for what happened in the past and maybe even that’s happening currently, which is the damage that is being done around the world because of this pandemic.  No repercussions, no punishment?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Look, I think that we’ve got to – there’s a report coming out shortly by the World Health Organization.  We’ve got real concerns about the methodology and the process that went into that report, including the fact that the government in Beijing apparently helped to write it.  But let’s see what comes out in that report.  But we do need to have both accountability for the past – but I think our focus needs to be on building a stronger system for the future. 

QUESTION:  Okay, let’s talk about what’s going on in Europe right now.  The U.S., as you well know, is threatening sanctions over a new natural gas pipeline known as Nord Stream 2.  It’s between Germany, which is a key NATO ally, and Russia.  You made a really – a big show and a point of saying that unity is important with European allies, as you just said just now during the trip that you’re on in Europe.  This pipeline is already about 90 percent done.  So how worried is the Biden administration about the influence that this pipeline could give Russia in the region?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, first, just to put this in context, because it’s true, we have a difference with Germany over this, but Germany is one of our closest allies and partners anywhere in the world.  And one of the things that really came out from the conversations this week is that in so many different areas that are having an impact on the lives of our citizens, we are working closely together.  And the fact that we have a difference over this pipeline is not going to change that, but we do have a difference. 

And President Biden has been very clear for a long time that he thinks the pipeline is a bad deal and a bad idea.  It undermines European energy security.  In fact, it undermines the very principles that the Europeans have agreed on about the need to diversify energy sources and supply to make sure they’re not reliant on any one country, especially not Russia.  It is potentially harmful to Ukraine, to Poland, to other countries.  It gives Russia more of a weapon using energy as a tool of coercion. 

So we think it’s a bad idea, and it was important for us to be able to tell that directly to our close partners in Germany, and that’s what I did.  And of course, Congress feels the same way, and we have sanctioned companies based on the law that are participating and trying to build the pipeline, and we’ve made clear that we’ll continue to do that.  We just wanted to make sure that there was no ambiguity in our position, that our friends and partners understood us.  And it’s really unfortunate that the pipeline is in any way a source of division; but despite, again, that difference, it’s not taking away from the fact that in virtually every other area we are working more closely together than ever.

QUESTION:  Is there anything you can do to stop its completion?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, ultimately, that’s up to those who are trying to build the pipeline and complete it.  We just wanted to make sure that our position, our opposition to the pipeline, was well understood.

QUESTION:  Understood. So I want to ask about Russia.  The U.S. and Russia is in an incredibly tense period right now.  After President Biden called Vladimir Putin a killer, the Kremlin called back its ambassador.  Under Putin, of course, Russia has interfered in American elections, put bounties on U.S. troops, hacked into U.S. computer systems.  President Biden has said that Russia will pay a price for those actions.  So what will that price be and when will that happen?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, you’re exactly right.  You’ve – I think you’ve touched on some of the most important points.  And we’ve seen across the board these different examples of Russia’s aggression.  There’s also what’s still going on tragically in eastern Ukraine, to add to the list.  And the President has been very clear that there will be consequences for these acts.  And we are in the process of completing reviews of the cyber attack through SolarWinds on us, the interference in the election, the use of a chemical weapon to try to murder Alexey Navalny – we’ve already spoken and acted on that – the bounties on U.S. forces in Afghanistan.  And there will be costs and consequences.  And I think you’re seeing as well – and what I heard here at NATO was a shared concern about Russia’s actions across the board and a shared commitment to stand together against them. 

At the same time, as we’re very clear-eyed about that, we also find areas where it’s in our mutual interest to try to cooperate.  We extended the New START Nuclear Arms Reduction Treaty, one of the first things we did.  There are other areas in the realm of so-called strategic stability where we might find ways to work together because it’s in our mutual interest.  But it really starts with being clear-eyed about the challenge that Russia poses and addressing that challenge together.  I can tell you from the NATO meetings there’s an absolute commitment to do that.

QUESTION:  Right.  But are you saying that you are not going to act and punish Russia for everything that is done to the United States without NATO or European partners, or are you saying that the U.S. will do it unilaterally if need be?  And if so, how quickly?  What’s the timeline?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I’m saying two things.  I’m saying that as the President’s been very clear, we will take necessary actions at a time and place of our choosing.  But whether it’s with regard to Russia, whether it’s regard to other countries that that pose a challenge, we are stronger and more effective when we’re able to do it in a coordinated fashion.  You’ve seen examples of that just in the past week with coordinated sanctions by the United States, by the – and the European Union, the UK, Canada, when it comes, for example, to China and its human rights abuses in Xinjiang.  You’ll – you’ve seen that in the case of Russia, as well.  But we will take the steps necessary to defend our interests.  And I think, again, what I take away from the meetings this week and all of all the conversations we’ve had with our allies and partners is there is a real determination to make sure that to the greatest extent possible we work together.

QUESTION:  Yes.  Let’s turn to Afghanistan.  We are getting closer and closer to the May 1st deadline put in place by the Trump administration to withdraw all remaining 2,500 troops in Afghanistan.  So the question is:  Considering the fact that President Biden said that it would be tough to meet that deadline, CNN is reporting that he’s considering an extension.  What specifically does the administration need to see before you decide the time is right to safely withdraw U.S. troops?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, as you know, we’re reviewing the policy very actively right now.  One of the reasons that it was so important to come here this week was to do two things.  One was to share our thinking with our allies and partners.  There are actually more European forces in Afghanistan right now than there are American, so they’re deeply invested in this with us, and they’ve been shoulder to shoulder with us from the very start.  The one and only time NATO’s Article 5 – an attack on one is an attack on all – has been invoked was actually in defense of the United States after we were attacked on 9/11.  So we have a deep sense of gratitude to our European partners for that. 

But one of the things that was important was not only to share our thinking as we’re going through this review, including the May 1st deadline, but to listen, to hear from our partners who are so invested, their ideas, their thoughts, their analysis.  And that’s exactly what I did.  I listened very carefully.  I phoned back to Washington, spoke to the President to relay the views of our allies and partners.  And that’s going to factor into his thinking and into the decisions he makes.

QUESTION:  So as a candidate, as you well know, Joe Biden promised to end the forever wars and bring all U.S. combat troops home.  Will he keep that promise here?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  He will.  And we’ve been very clear and NATO has been very clear that the approach that we’re taking to this is we went in together, we’ve adapted to circumstances together, and we will come out together when the time is right.  And what we’re focused on now is looking at the May 1st deadline.  But beyond that, and as we’re doing that, it was also very important to try to accelerate the diplomacy, because ultimately everyone recognizes that there is no military solution to Afghanistan.  There has to be some kind of political settlement, and it has to be a settlement reached by the Afghans themselves. 

So we’ve put some energy into the diplomatic effort in sharing some ideas with the Afghan Government, with the Taliban in bringing them together, including at a conference that will take place in the weeks ahead in Turkey, having the UN play a more prominent role in bringing people together, and also getting all of the neighbors and other countries that have both an interest and influence in Afghanistan to actually engage and get into this effort.  So all of that is happening at the same time, and the – what is ultimately necessary for Afghanistan to have a just and sustainable peace is for the parties to come together and negotiate one.

QUESTION:  I have to ask about Saudi.  The Biden administration did not directly punish Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi despite an intelligence report saying that he was directly responsible for approving his murder.  And President Biden didn’t hesitate to call Vladimir Putin a killer.  Do you consider Mohamed bin Salman a killer?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Dana, here’s what we did, and it’s important.  The report that you refer to we put out in the full light of day.  It’s not a report that was written a couple of weeks ago.  It had been sitting around for a little while and we put it out.  And that in and of itself is significant, because it’s not that there was anything new in the report in terms of what had previously been reported, but the fact that the Government of the United States put its imprimatur on that report and on that information, including responsibility for the murder of Mr. Khashoggi, I think is in and of itself important.

Second, we sanctioned a number of direct participants in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi.  And maybe as significantly going forward, to make sure that the best of our ability this doesn’t happen again, we put in place —

QUESTION:  And I understand —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  — something we call the Khashoggi Ban, which makes sure that anyone who, on behalf of a government, tries to intimidate, silence, or do harm to someone speaking out against that government, whether it’s a dissident, a political opponent or a journalist – well, we’re going to make sure that that person does not set foot in the United States.  And that applies not just to Saudi Arabia; it applies around the world.  And so I think we’ve been clear about that.  At the same time —

QUESTION:  Yeah.  And I understand all of that transparency, but —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  The transparency is usually important, and beyond the transparency these —

QUESTION:  I understand all of that transparency, but the fact is that you said – sorry, the delay is a little much.  Let me just get in and just say that you have been transparent and you have been very clear about his role, the Saudi crown prince’s role.  So is he a killer?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Here is – here’s the other fact that’s very important.  We have to – we have to and we do deal every day around the world with leaders of countries who do things that we find either – from objectionable to abhorrent.  But in terms of actually advancing our interests and advancing our values, it’s important to deal with them.  The crown prince is likely to be the leader of Saudi Arabia far into the future.  We have a strong interest, for example, in working to end the war in Yemen, probably the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.  That’s going to take meaningful engagement by the Saudis.  And doing so – and we’ve actually made real progress in that direction in the last couple of months – doing so is going to advance values that we hold dear in terms of protecting the lives of innocent civilians. 

There are – in terms of advancing human rights and progress in Saudi Arabia itself, are we better off recalibrating the relationship as we did or rupturing it?  And I think that in terms of actually making a difference on the things we care about, the recalibration was very necessary.  And the President’s been clear about that.  But rupturing the relationship actually won’t help us advance our interests or values.

QUESTION:  U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken, I have so much more to talk to you about.  Please come back.  I appreciate you giving us the time today.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks for having me.

U.S. Department of State

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