QUESTION: Good evening, Mr. Secretary of State.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good evening.
QUESTION: It’s an honor to have you here for an interview during your visit to Niger.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.
QUESTION: So first of all, how is the cooperation between Niger and the United States?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: The cooperation is excellent and is deepening. Not only in quantity, but in quality. We had President Bazoum in Washington at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, and a very good discussion with President Biden and other colleagues. For me, it’s an opportunity to be here in Niger to follow up on what we discussed in Washington and deepen the partnership in all areas: whether it’s development, democracy, or security issues.
QUESTION: Regarding security, more precisely. According to your administration, what is Niger’s place in the Sahel’s stabilization mechanism and, above all, how do you assess the role played by Niger?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: The role played by Niger is essential, but on several levels. The fact that Niger is really a model, a model of democracy in a region that has its difficulties at the moment, a model because there is a real focus on governance, the importance of institutions, the importance of development, the importance of really giving a choice. This example is very important obviously, first of all for the people of Niger, but also in contrast to what is happening in the region and around.
QUESTION: So speaking of development, a country like Niger tends to develop, unfortunately, relying on fossil fuels, which are no longer popular – no longer popular because of the fight against global warming. Can you, at the level of your administration, especially with the diplomacy that you manage, help countries like Niger to be heard and to be funded?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yes, absolutely, but I would say several things. First, at the development level, there are very important projects that have linked us for several years, including projects that are financed by the Millennium Challenge Corporation, precisely in the agricultural sector and in two directions. Firstly, to create access to markets, which are very important for farmers, but also irrigation, which is obviously very important. And then all the techniques necessary to have a sustainable production in Niger, those were created. And at the same time to create resilience against the impact of climate change. So that’s one thing. As far as energy is concerned, I think that there are very important opportunities here in Niger, for example in the field of renewable energy, which we discussed with the President. There too, there are investments that can be made. But what we are already seeing with the impact of the investment program like the Millennium Challenge, is really to create a structure and an agricultural system that creates jobs, creates markets and also creates links with neighbors like Benin. A common market will emerge, with routes that will be created to link the countries and link the markets.
QUESTION: So, what is your opinion on the war that is currently raging in Ukraine and that has an impact on countries like ours, particularly at the economic level? Do you see an end in sight, or do you see a need to continue militarily, and diplomacy on the other side?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: First of all, long before this Russia-led war in Ukraine, there was a food crisis in Africa and elsewhere, because of climate change, COVID that had an impact, and other conflicts. You add to that, this Russian aggression against Ukraine, Ukraine which is the source of a lot of agricultural products, which are important for Africa. At the same time, it has created, because these products, these seeds, these cereals have been blocked from the market by this Russian aggression, the prices have gone up; therefore inflation, a very clear impact on Africa. So what we have done since this aggression, is that we have made a very important increase in our investment in food security, 13 billion additional dollars, the majority for Africa. At the same time, we have made investments in productive capacity in Africa for the medium and long term. And finally, in Ukraine itself, with this Russian aggression, Ukrainian products were blocked. The Russians blocked the most important export port, Odesa. The United Nations and Turkey were able to create a scheme for these seeds to leave, a corridor in the Black Sea. And this is very important because these products arrive in Africa. So it must continue. Unfortunately, the Russians are threatening to block this project, because it must be renewed. We insist that this product can continue, so that these products can reach Africa. And even if it doesn’t arrive directly in one country or another, it has an impact on putting more products on the international market. And the prices go down for everyone.
QUESTION: Exactly. One last question on the news. An American Reaper drone was intercepted in the Black Sea. What can we learn from this?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I think that the images that we see on television now speak for themselves. It’s very clear that the Russian planes did something completely irresponsible that creates additional risks. So this is a real problem. But we are investigating the details. But I come back to an issue that is more important in a way: this war led by Russia in Ukraine, we hope that it will end tomorrow. In fact, we didn’t want it to end at all. We tried to stop it before the aggression started…
QUESTION: To handle it diplomatically?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: To handle it diplomatically. Unfortunately, for Mr. Putin, this is an imperial project. For him, Ukraine does not exist. It has to be a part of Russia again. So I think this is the problem for us, for everybody. There are very important principles at stake, which go beyond Ukraine: the idea of the territorial integrity of a country, of its sovereignty and independence. For many African countries that have been victims of imperialism in the past, I think it is very clear that we must reject this aggression and support the principles. I hope that Russia will stop this aggression as soon as possible. At the moment, unfortunately, we do not see positive signs and we have to support Ukraine. But at the same time, you know, even with all the aid that we are giving to Ukraine with many other countries, we are the country that gives the largest humanitarian and development aid in Africa. 55 billion dollars last year. We were talking about food security; we are the top donor, for example, in the World Food Programme, we make up 50% of the budget. Russia, for example, less than 1% of the budget. This too has a direct impact on the lives of our friends in Africa.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary of State.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.
QUESTION: It is an honor for me.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It was my pleasure. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.