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Secretary Antony J. Blinken at a Solo Press Availability

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, good evening, everyone.  I traveled to Israel in the days immediately following the horrific attacks of October 7th.  And I made clear then the commitment of the United States to Israel’s security and to ensuring that October 7th could never happen again. I also underscored Israel’s moral, strategic, and legal requirements to protect civilians and provide humanitarian assistance to those who needed it.

Now, of course, what happened after October 7th could have ended immediately if Hamas had stopped hiding behind civilians, released the hostages, and put down its weapons.  But Israel is not Hamas.  Israel is a democracy; Hamas, a terrorist organization.  And democracies place the highest value on human life – every human life.  As has been said, whoever saves a life, saves the entire world.  That’s our strength.  It’s what distinguishes us from terrorists like Hamas.  If we lose that reverence for human life, we risk becoming indistinguishable from those we confront. 

Here’s the current reality in Gaza.  Despite important steps that Israel has taken to allow assistance into Gaza, the results on the ground are woefully insufficient and unacceptable.  A hundred percent of the population in Gaza knows acute levels of food insecurity.  A hundred percent of the population is in need of humanitarian assistance.  And those working heroically to provide that assistance are doing so in great peril to their own lives.  This week’s horrific attack on the World Central Kitchen was not the first such incident.  It must be the last. 

President Biden spoke a short while ago with Prime Minister Netanyahu.  The leaders discussed the situation in Gaza.  The President emphasized that the strikes on humanitarian workers and the overall humanitarian situation are unacceptable.  He made clear the need for Israel to announce a series of specific, concrete, and measurable steps to address civilian harm, humanitarian suffering, and the safety of aid workers.  He made clear that U.S. policy with respect to Gaza will be determined by our assessment of Israel’s immediate action on these steps. 

He underscored as well that an immediate ceasefire is essential to stabilize and improve the humanitarian situation and protect innocent civilians, and he urged Prime Minister Netanyahu to empower his negotiators to conclude a deal without delay to bring the hostages home.  The two leaders also discussed public Iranian threats against Israel and the Israeli people.  President Biden reaffirmed the United States strong support for Israel in the face of these threats and our commitment to Israel’s security.

Right now, there is no higher priority in Gaza than protecting civilians, surging humanitarian assistance, and ensuring the security of those who provide it.  Israel must meet this moment. 

Now here in Brussels we marked 75 years to the day since the founding of the NATO Alliance.  We had our first ministerial meeting with Sweden at the table, a full Ally.  There are now 32 members of the NATO Alliance.  And that Alliance has continued to adapt, to meet challenges, to meet threats as they’ve emerged.

So while we focused on celebrating the fact that we’ve hit the 75-year mark, we’re intensely focused on the future.  We discussed concrete outcomes for the upcoming Washington Summit in July, including increasing our support for Ukraine, strengthening NATO’s deterrence and defense posture, in particular through boosting our defense industrial bases on both sides of the Atlantic, and deepening cooperation with partners, including from the Indo-Pacific. 

We also held our second NATO-Ukraine Council.  We reaffirmed that Ukraine’s future is in NATO.  Our goal now is to create a bridge to Ukraine’s full membership, offering additional support and greater cooperation, as Ukraine makes the reforms necessary to join the Alliance. 

Ukraine has made some remarkable progress in recent months.  It pushed Russia’s fleet back from the Black Sea, opening up shipping lanes to get grain to the world, and in fact exports through the Black Sea now equal or exceed exports before the Russian aggression in February of 2022.  Ukraine is attracting more and more private investment, and it is valiantly holding ground on the battlefield in the face of an ongoing Russian onslaught. 

It’s also making progress on governance and security reforms, which we discussed in our meetings today, including boosting resources for its anti-corruption institutions, increasing transparency and accountability for the military assistance that we’re all providing to Ukraine.  And I think this progress shows that Ukraine is taking our recommendations – the recommendations of all Allies – seriously, doing the hard work to meet NATO’s high standards. 

But we also know this: More aid is urgently needed for Ukraine.  We heard directly today from Foreign Minister Kuleba every day without further assistance puts Ukraine’s defenders and its civilians in greater peril.  Our support is especially important as a number of countries are helping Russia build up its defense industrial base and continue to perpetrate its aggression on Ukraine.  China continues to provide materials to support Russia’s defense industrial base.  The DPRK and Iran also providing support.  And all of this is fueling Putin’s war machine as he attacks Ukrainians and threatens European security. 

The United States has to do its part.  Allies have been stepping up.  They’ve been shouldering their share of the responsibility.  There was just a few weeks ago announced another 50 billion euros in additional EU funding.  They’re making unprecedented investments in their own defense industrial bases, and we have now two-thirds of the Allies who are meeting the Wales Pledge of dedicating two percent of GDP to defense.  So more than ever, we have genuine burden sharing among the Allies.  And in the 30 or so years that I’ve been engaged in these issues, this is probably the best example of burden sharing that I’ve seen. 

The United States has made tremendous contributions ourselves, but it is imperative that Congress pass the supplementary budget request that President Biden’s made.  I know that Speaker Johnson committed to bring the supplemental to a vote swiftly.  The message from Brussels is clear: That vote cannot happen soon enough. 

I also heard this from Ally after Ally: Our commitment, our engagement is indispensable for this Alliance.  I also heard the profound impact it would have on global security if U.S. – the United States were in any way to back away from its commitments.  I agree with that, and that’s also a message that I intend to take back with me to the United States and to our Congress. 

A lot more was discussed at these meetings over the last couple of days.  I’m happy to get into any of those issues, but in the interest of time, let me turn to your questions.

MR PATEL:  We’ll first go to Courtney McBride with Bloomberg. 

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary.


QUESTION:  How viable is the proposal for a five-year, $100 billion NATO fund to aid Ukraine and for greater Alliance involvement in coordinating weapons deliveries to Kyiv?  And is the U.S. willing to – able to contribute fresh money to that if it is a viable option?  And then beyond that, is the U.S. among the Allies who have committed further searching their own stocks for additional air defenses for Ukraine? 

And you just mentioned that U.S. policy on Gaza will be determined by Israel’s actions in response to these concrete steps you’re seeking.  Can you clarify what sort of U.S. policy changes we might be looking at?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, Courtney.  So first, in terms of funding for Ukraine, the most important, the most urgent thing is getting the supplemental passed.  That would be the most immediate and most important source of the additional funds that Ukraine needs to help it continue to protect itself against the Russian aggression. 

Beyond that, we are, of course, talking to our NATO Allies and partners about what they’re doing, what we can do, what the Alliance can do to make sure that Ukraine has the resources it needs – both in the immediate to address the critical situation now, but also going forward.  Because while we’re working to address these immediate concerns, we’re also working together to build out Ukraine’s force for the future, a force that deter aggression and defend against it if it has to. 

More than 30 countries now have signed or are in the process negotiating and signing bilateral agreements with Ukraine.  And we’re, ourselves – the United States – working on our own bilateral agreement.  But we’re also looking at the role that NATO can and should play over time in supporting Ukraine.  And this is an ongoing discussion that we’ll have in the weeks ahead, and I imagine that you’ll see something at the summit when we come together in Washington in July. 

In terms of stocks of equipment, supplies, yeah, we – one of the things we talked about today was everyone going back and taking an immediate and hard look at what can be made available.  We know what the needs are: air defenses, artillery, munitions.  So I believe, based on what I heard today, that everyone, including the United States, is going to double-back and as necessary double-down on finding the resources that Ukraine continues to need. 

And with regards to our policy in Gaza, look, I’ll just say this: If we don’t see the changes that we need to see, there’ll be changes in our own policy. 

MR PATEL:  We’ll next go to Mattia Bagnoli from ANSA.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, thank you.  Mattia Bagnoli, ANSA, the national Italian news agency.  A little bit of follow-up on the funding issue.  Do you fear that what we see now with the supplement, that it is blocked in the Congress, could also happen to this fund proposed by the secretary general?  So is something that you could see happening down the line?

And secondly, if I may, we know that during the ministerial you discussed also the future relationship with Russia.  Can the West still do business with Moscow, so to speak, with Putin at the Kremlin?  Or a new face is a prerequisite for a possible reset?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks.  Second part of the question first.  Look, with any country we’re focused on policies, not personalities.  What we’re looking to see is what are Russia’s policies.  And unfortunately, tragically, horrifically, the policy at present is the ongoing aggression against Ukraine and the tremendous suffering that’s bringing to Ukrainians, and the threat that that continues to pose not only to Ukraine, but to the very principles at the heart of the international system that countries rely on so that countries can’t simply go in and try to change the territory and borders of another country by force or determine the future of that country. 

Because we know if we leave that unchecked, then would-be aggressors everywhere will draw their own conclusions, and that makes for a world that’s even more violent, unstable, and full of conflict.  So what we’re focused on is what Russia is doing, and as I said, it continues to pursue this aggression against Ukraine.

Again, with regard to funding, there are two things that I think are important.  One, the immediate needs that Ukraine has to continue to resist effectively the aggression.  That’s where our supplemental comes in; that’s where the assistance that the European Union announced is so critical. 

But we’re also looking for ways to make sure that we can help Ukraine, in the mid-term and the long term, develop a strong deterrent force, a strong defensive force, a strong force for the future – one that will require from us, all of us, far fewer resources than we’ve had to dedicate to Ukraine just in these past couple of years because of the urgency of the situation, but that will help Ukraine develop the military it needs for the future.  And as you look at it, we’re on a trajectory in the mid-to-long term where Ukraine will be able to stand very strongly on its own two feet militarily, economically, and democratically. 

The agreements, as I said, that individual countries are reaching with Ukraine on military cooperation and support, as well as the work that NATO will do – and more to come on that at the summit – that’s going to make sure that the military leg is strong.  We are driving private sector investment to Ukraine.  There is tremendous both opportunity and potential there, including having a strong defense industrial base in Ukraine that will help Ukraine and also help other countries.  And finally, given the process that the EU started on accession, that will continue to drive Ukraine’s efforts to deepen its democracy.

And so the future and the best possible rebuke to Vladimir Putin is a strong, successful Ukraine.  And we’re on a path to get there.  But we have to make sure that Ukraine gets through the coming months and the coming period of time in the face of this aggression.  And that’s why the funds, including in the supplemental, are so urgent.

MR PATEL:  We’ll next go to Shannon Crawford with ABC.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  A couple questions on Gaza.  Well, first of all, you said the President called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.  Is the administration no longer linking a ceasefire to the release of hostages?  And in telling the Israeli prime minister that he needs to empower negotiators to secure a deal, are you saying the administration sees Israel as a problem on that front?  And then you said the administration will rethink its approach to Israel if it doesn’t see immediate action to address the humanitarian concerns in Gaza.  What is immediate action, really?  Is there a timeline here that you’re expecting to see?

And I also want to say that we did ask – the press corps traveling with you – asked a couple times in the aftermath of that airstrike on the convoy that killed seven aid workers, including an American – we asked you about that, and you expressed grief, but you didn’t express outrage.  You didn’t condemn the strike, as your French counterpart did at the time.  Can you tell me what changed in the last 48 hours or so?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  First of all, on that – nothing changed.  When I saw the news of the strike, I was outraged.  And I strongly condemn it.  When I spoke to it the other day, others of my colleagues had been out, I was focused on the – the people, the individuals who had lost their lives, given their lives in service of their fellow human beings.  That was what was motivating me in those initial comments, because it’s so important that the world understand these are heroes.  And what these men and women did – the ones who lost their lives in Gaza, as well as people working for World Central Kitchen around the world in so many places of conflict – is extraordinary and the best of humanity.  And I thought it was important as well to put the focus on that, even as the administration spoke clearly about our outrage and our condemnation. 

So nothing’s changed; I focused on the human beings involved.  Our conviction remains that we need to see an immediate ceasefire to enable the release of hostages, but also to enable a dramatic surge in humanitarian assistance, as well as, obviously, better protecting civilians. 

Now, as I said, the President and the prime minister just spoke, but it’s our expectation that Israel will and certainly should announce concrete, specific, measurable steps that it will take – and take as soon as possible – to make sure that there can be an effective surge in assistance, that it can be sustained, and that humanitarian workers and civilians are better protected.

MR PATEL:  We’ll next go to Nicholas Wallace with DPA. 

QUESTION:  Thank you.  The secretary general’s proposal for Ukraine would shift responsibility for combined aid from the U.S.-coordinated Ukraine contact group and to NATO proper.  So two questions.  First, do you support that proposal?  Second, how do you respond to those who say that this is Trump-proofing?  Does it bother you that European officials are still talking about American leadership in terms of the former president, and not the one who’s been in power for the last three years and who wants to stay there through another term?  Thank you. 

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks.  First, what the defense contact group has done is remarkable, and I think the work that Secretary Austin did in establishing the support mechanism for Ukraine, in bringing allies and partners together over these many months and coordinating their efforts, has produced extraordinary results.  And the question, I think, for us now – and heading toward the summit – is how we not only work but strengthen the work that we’re doing and that NATO is doing in that effort, both to meet Ukraine’s immediate needs and, as I said before, to make sure that it’s helping and we’re all helping Ukraine build the force that it needs for the future, to deter aggression and to defend against it. 

So these conversations over the last couple of days have been focused on exactly what we’re going to do at the summit.  We’ve begun a process among all the countries and with all the experts to flesh that out.  We’ll be using the time between now and the summit to do exactly that.  I expect we’ll have another meeting of the foreign ministers in Prague at the end of May.  We look forward to a lot of work being done to design and detail exactly what the different roles are going to be going forward.

And as to the second part of your question, look, all I can tell you is this:  We’re focused on the here and now, and what I heard again and again and again was the indispensability of U.S. leadership and U.S. engagement.  And we heard that from ally after ally, we’ve heard that from our Ukrainian friends as well, and we know that countries within this Alliance and well beyond the Alliance look to the United States for that engagement, for that leadership.  I think we’ve demonstrated it very clearly when it comes to Ukraine and the aggression that Russia committed starting in February of 2022, and we’re determined to continue it.  We’re responsible for the here and now.  That’s what we’re working on. 

We also want to make sure that, as an Alliance and as individual countries, we’re putting in place what’s going to be needed, as I said, to help Ukraine over the medium and long term make sure that it can stand on its own feet militarily as well as economically and democratically.  So it makes a good deal of sense, especially given our commitment as well that Ukraine will become a member of NATO in the future, to have that bridge on the military side, to make sure that there’s a clear pathway, and with NATO playing the necessary role to help Ukraine do everything it needs to do to become a member of the Alliance.  That’s what we’ll be focused on, and you’ll hear a lot more about that between now and the summit. 

MR PATEL:  Thank you, everybody.  Thank you. 

QUESTION:  One question about —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, everyone. 

MR PATEL:  Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION:  Just one question about Kurdish region.

MR PATEL:  Thank you.  We have to – we’re going to wrap for today. 

QUESTION:  On the Kurdish region.  There are disagreement between the Kurdish political government in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan regarding the upcoming election in June this year.  What do you expect in the upcoming election in Iraqi Kurdistan?  What is the – your message for Iraqi and all political parties in Iraqi Regional Kurdistan? 

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, we want to see – we want to see elections go forward, we want to see everyone participate in those elections, and we want to make sure that people feel that they are well represented.  And it’s also vitally important that the relationship between Baghdad and Erbil move forward in a positive and productive way for all the people of Iraq, including the Kurdish region.  And we’re very focused on that in our conversations with the government in Baghdad as well as with officials in the KRG.  And again, elections I think are an important part of that.  Thank you. 

MR PATEL:  Thank you.  Thank you. 

Official news published at https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-at-a-solo-press-availability/

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