QUESTION: Let me start with a more general question about the German-American relations. I think as much as European and German officials appreciate U.S. being back on the world stage and re-engaging in multilateralism, there is the fear that the Biden administration might be only a brief return to normal before Trump or a Trumpian figure will take over the White House in ’25. And my question is: Do you share the concern that the U.S. democracy is still in a fragile condition, and Europe should therefore try to stand on its own feet?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I think we all have to deal with the here and now and the challenges that we’re facing together to try to deal with the – both the problems and opportunities that our citizens are facing around the world. And what I’ve seen in just the last few months as we’ve been working closely with Germany, with other allies and partners, is that we’re producing meaningful results for our own people and for people around the world. And ultimately, that’s what matters. If we continue to do that, if we demonstrate that our democracies can deliver effectively for people, then I think the approach that we’re taking will be sustained. So our obligation is to actually deliver results.
What we’ve seen, I think, working together – the G7, the NATO summit, the U.S.-EU summit – is exactly that. Whether it was at the G7, our commitments together to deliver a billion doses of the COVID vaccine with more on top of that; the commitment to stop financing coal-fired plants so that we can really get at climate change – it’s the single biggest source of emissions; the program to, as we call it, Build Back Better for the World, investments we’re making together in infrastructure in low and mid-income countries with a race to the top in terms of the standards of investment; the work that we did at the U.S.-EU summit to end or at least put on pause trade disputes that had been lingering for years – in the case of Airbus and Boeing for 17 years – the steel tariffs.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Working together on trade and technology, setting standards, setting norms. All of these things are concrete manifestations of the proposition that we not only can, we have to work together to deal with the challenges that are actually having an impact on the lives of our people. And again, if we do that, if we show success, I think people will sustain that approach to policy and to international collaboration.
QUESTION: Let me ask you one question. I mean, obviously, the most difficult issue at the moment between Washington and Berlin is the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. You made it abundantly clear that President Biden opposes the project, and yet his administration waived sanction for the Nord Stream company and its CEO, Matthias Warnig.
And my question is: Wasn’t that a huge mistake given the fact that Aleksey Navalny is still in prison, a court in Moscow banned Navalny’s anti-corruption organization, and just two weeks ago at an economic forum in Petersburg, Vladimir Putin made it perfectly clear that he is willing to use Nord Stream as a political weapon against Ukraine?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: First, as you know, the pipeline began construction in 2018. By the time we took office in January of this year, it was more than 90 percent complete – the physical construction of the pipeline – and as we went ahead and sanctioned more entities under our law than had ever been sanctioned before. But the reality of the physical completion of the pipeline was such that we looked to see: Can we make something out of a very bad hand that we inherited? Because yes, President Biden has long said that the pipeline is a bad idea, that it will potentially be a tool of Russian economic coercion and strategic coercion, a tool that can be used not only against Ukraine but indeed Europe as a whole to the extent it increases dependence on Russian gas.
But the question before us is what to actually do about this to mitigate or prevent the damage that the pipeline could do if used in the wrong way by President Putin and by Russia, and that’s exactly the conversation we’re now engaged in with Germany. And I think it’s going to be very important to show by concrete actions that we’ll agree on together and potentially with others that we can prevent or mitigate damage that could be done by the pipeline.
QUESTION: And I mean, obviously, you are paying a big political price for not imposing sanctions to Nord Stream 2. I mean, you know the situation in Congress. What do you expect from the German Government in return? Could a moratorium be a compromise between Germany and the U.S. where the construction is finished but the pipeline would only be put into operation under certain circumstances – for example, the release of Aleksey Navalny?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We’re in very active discussions with the German Government right now looking at a series of possible steps, actions, measures that we can take to make sure that the pipeline is not used for negative purposes as a tool of coercion or blackmail and that the interests of countries like Ukraine are protected both economically and strategically. So there are a series of very practical things that we’re looking at, that we’re talking about, and my expectation is that we’ll agree on important measures that, again, can mitigate the – any damage that could be done.
The sanctions that we’ve – that we waived, those waivers can be rescinded. We have to report again to our Congress in about a month’s time. So I hope and expect that we’ll show real results from these conversations.
QUESTION: Yeah, and one more question about Ukraine. When one looks at the Ukraine crisis, it is very clear that the Normandy format talks that started in 2014 and include France, Germany and Ukraine and Russia, brought little to no progress at all. And my question is: Was it a mistake on President Obama’s part to leave the conflict basically to the Europeans? And isn’t it – and is it now time for the U.S. to play a more active role perhaps in joining the Normandy format talks?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We were very engaged – the United States was very engaged in Ukraine in 2015, 2016. We respected the proposition that the Normandy format would be the central vehicle for trying to advance the Minsk process, the agreements that were reached, which unfortunately have largely not been implemented by Russia over many years, but that that was the best way forward. But we were working as well to try to advance that process.
President Biden discussed this with President Putin, and of course, he’s discussed it with Chancellor Merkel, with President Macron and others. And what we’ve said is, look, if Russia is serious about implementing Minsk and we can be helpful, we’re fully prepared to do that. But it really starts with the basic question of whether Russia is serious about it or not, or whether it prefers this frozen conflict where it can turn up the heat whenever it feels like it, as it did recently by massing the largest number of troops on Ukraine’s border since 2014. So the real test is whether Russia is serious or not.
Irrespective of that, we’re committed to Ukraine’s sovereignty, its territorial integrity, its independence, and making sure that it has the means to defend itself from Russian aggression as well as supporting its efforts to deal with the internal aggression posed by corruption and other democratic deficiencies. So we’re there for Ukraine. My hope would be that Russia would actually be serious about the Minsk process. In that case, I think, Normandy can continue to play a central role, but we’re also prepared to be engaged and to try to move it forward, but the question is really with Moscow.
QUESTION: Yeah. Do you think about naming a special envoy for Ukraine?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Look, we will look to see how we can best be helpful, if there is actual work to be done, and whether that’s through an envoy, whether that’s through the very experienced and very senior team that we’re putting together, including people who have deep experience with Ukraine. For example, we – our Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, one of our most senior officials, Victoria Nuland, is someone who has deep experience in Ukraine. Our incoming Assistant Secretary of State for Europe when approved by Congress is also someone with deep experience. So how we do it matters less than whether there’s an opportunity to really move – help move something forward and do it in very close collaboration with Germany, with France, with our partners.
MR PRICE: Rene, we have time for a final question.
QUESTION: Maybe one last question about the travel ban. As a couple of days ago, American citizens are allowed to travel to Europe, but U.S. travel ban for citizens who want to travel to the U.S. is still in place. Can you give us a timeline of when the ban will be lifted and what is the reason why European citizens who are vaccinated are not allowed to travel to the U.S.?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We’re following the science and following the recommendations of our health authorities, principally the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control. And that’s where we’re looking for guidance. That’s where we’re looking for the best information possible upon which to make policy decisions. We’re very anxious to have travel resume as robustly, as completely, as possible. We have a working group with the European Union right now on this. I can’t put a date on it. I can tell you we’re working very, very actively on it, because we would like nothing better than to see travel pick up. We have to all be deliberate about it and, again, make these decisions based on our best assessment of the science, our best assessment of health conditions. That’s what we’re doing, but we’re doing it with the European Union.
QUESTION: Okay. If you have time, one last question about China.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Go ahead. One last one and —
QUESTION: Just before the Biden administration took over in January 20th, the EU and China agreed on a trade deal that should create new investment opportunities for EU companies in China. Did you consider that as an unfriendly gesture on part of the EU? Do you now expect Germany and the EU to take a tougher stance on China?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, what we’re focused on is not trying to contain China or to hold China back. We’re focused on trying to hold up the free and open, rules-based international system that the United States and Germany together have helped to build and we’ve invested so much in over so many decades. And if different aspects of that free and open rules-based system are being challenged by anyone, whether it’s China or any other country, then we think it’s important to stand up and defend what we built, because it’s delivered very important results for all of our citizens and can continue to do so. So that’s the basic approach. We also recognize that we all have very complicated relationships with China that can’t be summed up in one word or, as we like to say, on a bumper sticker of a car.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: There are adversarial aspects, competitive ones, cooperative ones. But whether it’s any of those three, our proposition is we’re much better off engaging China together. We’re going to be much more effective in any of those areas if we’re doing it together. So that’s what we’re looking towards. We want to make sure that in any of our engagements with China that we’re upholding the basic norms and standards that bring us together, that we’re – if we’re in a race, it’s a race to the top, not a race to the bottom. And that goes for the commercial relationship, that goes for the relationship on political and diplomatic issues, and so on.
So when it comes to something like the agreement that was reached, no, the question is not a hostile action. We just want to make sure that we all have in mind some of the potential challenges that China poses, for example, when it comes to information technology that is so significant in all of our lives. Unfortunately, if you’re doing business with a so-called private company from China, there is actually no distinction between private and the government. The government has the ability to control and to elicit information from any of these companies. And unfortunately, right now when it comes to norms and standards of human rights, of privacy, of intellectual property, the government in Beijing does not meet the standards that we’ve all set. So I think we have to be careful. So that’s all that we’re saying.
But what I think we’ve seen especially – just look at the last two weeks. We’re seeing a convergence of views on the best ways to engage China. The G7 summit – the last time the G7 leaders met in 2018, China was not even mentioned in the communique. In this case, there were, I think, important things agreed to by the leaders when it comes to dealing with China. Similarly at NATO just a couple of days later, the last time that NATO wrote a strategic concept back in 2010, China was not mentioned. There’s focus on China in NATO as well. And when we got to the U.S.-EU summit, we’ve agreed to establish between the United States and the EU a trade and technology council that’s going to make sure that when it comes to trade and technology, we’re working together on the norms, on the standards, on the rules in ways that reflect our values. We re-established the U.S.-EU dialogue on China that had been dormant.
So what I’m seeing increasingly is a shared viewpoint but one that recognizes the complexity of the relationships, the fact that they’re consequential for all of us. And we’re not asking people to choose between the United States and China. We’re simply saying we have a common set of values and interests that have helped shape the international system for almost eight decades, and we need to continue to stand for freedom and for openness when it comes to that system and to do it together.
QUESTION: So thank you so much for your time, Mr. Secretary, and I hope I see you in Washington.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. See you Washington. Thank you. Good to be with you.