QUESTION: Secretary Blinken, thank you so much for being with us today.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s a pleasure.
QUESTION: I would like to start by asking you whether you’re here in Greece coming from Türkiye with a concrete initiative. We’ve seen, and you’ve said in an interview, that Türkiye has made some steps towards improving relations with Greece. So which are these steps, and are you here again with a concrete proposal, a new initiative perhaps?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I think, in the first instance, the focus really is on the earthquake, and the fact that Greece jumped in, stood up immediately to help those in need in Türkiye has played an important part in, I think, reaching Turkish hearts.
I was just there, as you said. I talked to many Turkish colleagues, and one of the first things that they said was how meaningful it was that so many Greek citizens, so much Greek assistance came in their hour of need. I think that creates a better atmosphere.
But, look, this is obviously, in both Greece and Türkiye, an election period. So that always makes things challenging. I think, in the first instance, my hope would be that both Greece and Türkiye keep the waters as calm as possible, and perhaps in the months ahead there will be some opportunity to strengthen even more of the dialogue, the diplomacy, and to look at resolving some of the longstanding issues between them.
For us, the United States, that’s very important because both Greece and Türkiye are close allies, close partners, close friends, and, of course, we want to see them come together. If they do, I think the opportunities are extraordinary for Greeks and Turks alike.
QUESTION: Do you have any indication that what we’re currently seeing – I mean, after the devastation of the earthquakes, is something more than imposed – which is more or less imposed by mourn and grief?
And of course, our hearts go out to the people who mourn, but are you optimistic that this could bring a change in Türkiye’s stance towards the West in general?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Okay, I think what’s powerful is it’s a reminder of our common humanity and that, ultimately, what brings us together is more powerful than what keeps us apart.
But, of course, there are longstanding issues, differences, disputes, and I don’t want to be one way or another suggesting that anything gets resolved overnight. But I hope that the spirit of cooperation, the spirit of coming to each other’s help may be – have some role in the future.
But first things first. Türkiye is, of course, absolutely focused on trying to recover from this earthquake. We just saw there was a significant aftershock just yesterday.
QUESTION: Last night.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: People are terrified. People who have survived are terrified. They’re scared about going home, if they even have a home to go back to.
QUESTION: Now, you said that you urge both countries – and you usually say that, I mean, the Department of State usually says that both countries must solve their differences through dialogue – but many say that this is, in a sense, an equal distance between a country that threatens and a country that is being threatened. How do you address that?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Of course, we are always mindful of Greece’s security concerns. It’s something we take very, very seriously. But we also believe that, with good will and good faith on both sides, there is always room to improve, to address the differences, and to make a meaningful difference in resolving them.
QUESTION: Did you have the chance to discuss it with your counterpart in Türkiye, perhaps?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I did, I did.
QUESTION: Did you get any commitment that this would change?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: My – look, I don’t want to – it’s not appropriate for me to speak for them.
QUESTION: I understand.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: But I can say that my sense is that there is certainly an interest and a willingness – and that’s certainly true here in Greece – to try to find ways to move forward productively together.
QUESTION: Secretary, there is a question that I am sure most Greeks would want me to ask you, so I will, even though it’s a difficult one. How far does our defense cooperation go? What are the Greeks to expect from the United States in case, God forbid, of an attack against Greece?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I think our defense cooperation has only deepened and strengthened, especially in the last few years. We have a Defense Cooperation Agreement that we just revised last year. That’s resulted, among other things, in more than $100 million invested in upgrading Greek ports. At the same time, Greece’s F-16 program is in the midst of a major modernization effort, more than 80 Greek F-16s, as we speak, are being brought up to the highest standard. I expect there will be more planes that go through that program.
And in addition, of course, Greece is looking to acquire the F-35, something that we support. So our cooperation has reached, I think, extraordinary levels. Of course, we have new places where we’re working together in terms of training and cooperation, so we have our forces working together, more of our forces in more places than at any time.
At the same time, we’re NATO Allies, and President Biden has been absolutely clear that we, the United States, are committed to Article V in the NATO Agreement, and we will defend every inch of NATO territory, were it to come under threat.
QUESTION: Yes, but interestingly enough, I had recently the chance to interview Senator Menendez, and he told me that he shared his concern with the Secretary General of NATO, Mr. Stoltenberg, of what would happen if a NATO country attacks, unprovoked, another NATO country. So this was my question.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yeah, and of course, I’m not going to engage in hypothetical discussions. But what I can say is that, as always, we urge all of our friends to engage diplomatically to resolve any differences peacefully, not to engage in provocative actions, not to engage in provocative rhetoric. That risks creating problems, even if unintended.
QUESTION: This rhetoric coming from the Turkish side, these threats of invasion, how do you listen to these in Washington? Do you think that it’s just rhetoric?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Again, we’ve said to all our friends that, from our perspective, engaging in rhetoric, and certainly engaging in actions that are in any way threatening is not something we support. On the contrary. And we continue to believe strongly that our partners can best succeed by engaging directly and working together diplomatically to resolve whatever separates them.
QUESTION: Senator, you mentioned the F-16, and I would like to ask you whether the Biden administration would consider taking into consideration the concerns expressed by the Congress, whether you would consider selling an F-16 to Türkiye, with the term that these jets will not be used for illegal overflights in Greece, something that, as you know, Senator Menendez had brought forward with —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So, for us, the F-16s, the modernization package for Türkiye, is a critical piece of making sure that another ally, Türkiye, is fully interoperable with NATO, and that it can perform to the highest standards for the collective defense that benefits all of us.
And again, we have – we’re always mindful of Greece’s security concerns. And as I said a moment ago, we’re in the midst of a major modernization program for Greece’s F-16s, as well as looking to the F-35.
QUESTION: So you wouldn’t be open to such a term?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yes, I don’t want to speculate on any details of any agreements, but we’re always mindful of security concerns.
QUESTION: ExxonMobil has been conducting surveys of Crete. That’s a region that, in some cases, has brought some objections on the part of Libya, objections that are backed by Türkiye, and I was – I would like to ask you whether you are in a position to protect the U.S. interests in the area, if needed.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, look. What I can say generally is there are some extraordinary opportunities when it comes to energy, renewable energy, but also in connecting North Africa to Europe. And Greece is at the heart of that, Greece is the hub of that. There are a number of potential projects that look very viable and very strong, and I think the – already, Greece is playing a major role in regional energy diversification.
I think what the future offers is an even greater role, and Greece, as I said, is the hub of these efforts. And that’s clearly in the interest of many countries, and something that we want to find ways to support.
QUESTION: And lastly, a question, if I may, for Ukraine, because Thursday marks the first anniversary of this —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yes.
QUESTION: — brutal invasion by Russia.
First of all, are you asking Greece, or would you urge Greece, or would you like to see Greece sending more help to Ukraine? We’ve seen over the last month speculation about the S-300 or Leopard tanks. How do you see that?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I see two things. First, what Greece has already done is remarkable, being among the first to stand up in defense of Ukraine against this Russian aggression, in defense of the basic principles that are so important to trying to maintain peace and security around the world embedded in the United Nations charter, the idea that one nation can’t simply erase the borders of another, seize its land, try to erase its identity.
And actually, Vladimir Putin spoke again today, and made clear yet again that’s – this is what this is all about. It’s not about some threat to Russia posed by NATO or by Ukraine; it’s all about his fixation on bringing Ukraine back into the Russian empire, into Russia itself, and eliminating its identity as an independent nation. So Greece stood up strongly and has throughout.
I think it’s in the interest of all of us to continue to do what we can to maximize support for Ukraine, to strengthen their position on the ground, and hopefully, when eventually a negotiation emerges, puts them in the strongest possible position to negotiate.
Look, no one, except for Vladimir Putin, wanted this war. We tried to prevent it. We saw it coming. We engaged for months with Russia to see if they had any genuine security concerns that in any way explained what they were starting to do. And unfortunately, they made very clear that, as I said, what this was about was Putin’s obsession with eliminating Ukraine. It was never about any security concerns that they —
QUESTION: So more help there, you say, from allies like Greece, and —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I think it’s incumbent upon all of us to continue to do that.
QUESTION: Lastly, two days ago you said that there are evidence that China might be considering supporting, with lethal aid, Russia against Ukraine.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That’s right.
QUESTION: Beijing has responded saying – and I quote – that this is fake news. So I would like to ask you whether you insist on what you said, and if you share Zelenskyy’s opinion that, if China gets implicated in this, then we might be talking about World War III eventually.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, we are certainly not talking about World War III. And what we want to do is not to broaden this war in any way, but hopefully bring it to an end, but an end that is both just and durable. Because, otherwise, it makes no sense, just in the sense that we don’t ratify the seizure by force of all of this land by Russia, durable in the sense that we leave things in a way that it’s not likely that Russia repeats the exercise a year later or five years later.
China – so that’s important.
QUESTION: And how about China, sir?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So as to China, we stand by what I said and others have said the other day. We’ve been watching this from day one.
You’ll remember that just a few weeks before Russia launched its aggression against Ukraine, President Xi and President Putin met and talked about a partnership with no limits. Very early on President Biden said to President Xi that we would look very carefully at whether China was providing any material military lethal support to Ukraine, as well as whether it engaged in systematic sanctions evasion, and that, if it did, that would be a serious problem in our relationship. So we’ve been watching very carefully.
And I raised the concerns that I did the other day because we have seen signs and we have information that China is considering moving to lethal assistance for Ukraine. That would be a terrible step, but not only from our perspective, from the perspective of many other countries in Europe and beyond. And so I hope China does not take that step.
QUESTION: Secretary Blinken, thank you so much.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. It’s good to be with you.