Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken press availability in Brussels, Belgium, April 5, 2023.
I Well, good afternoon, everyone. Um It’s always good to be back in Belgium and Brussels at the NATO headquarters, which has become almost a home away from home. But this week, uh these last two days, this has genuinely been a historic NATO meeting Yesterday on the 74th anniversary of the Alliance. I accepted Finland’s membership documents to join NATO. Finland is now our 31st ally. Uh with this step, Finland is safer. NATO is stronger. We look forward to welcoming Sweden to NATO in the near future Like Finland, it’s militarily capable. It’s a strong democracy, fully dedicated to upholding the commitments and values that underpin our alliance including Article five at the NATO leaders summit last summer, the NATO allies agreed on a new strategy for the first time in a decade since then, including at this ministerial, we’ve been working to implement that strategy, making our alliance stronger, more resilient, better position for the future. We’re building on the Wales defense investment pledge to invest 2% of our GDP in defense. It is critical that we have the means to replenish stockpiles to increase the readiness of our forces to meet force generation commitments for NATO missions and operations to keep pace with 21st century challenges. We’re developing new partnerships including in the Indo Pacific at this ministerial. We welcome the participation of Japan Australia, South Korea, New Zealand who share our vision of a free and open Indo Pacific region but also recognize that many of the challenges that we face are interconnected and global in nature. And of course, the alliance remains relentlessly focused on Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. The NATO Ukraine Commission met for the first time in five years with Foreign Minister, Kale’s participation to talk about ways that we can continue to help Ukraine in the weeks months. And indeed the years ahead when the NATO Foreign Ministers last convened back in November of last year, President Putin was pursuing his new strategy to win his brutal war against Ukraine. Having suffered devastating setbacks on the battlefield. He tried to bomb and freeze Ukraine’s civilian population into submission. He celebrated his campaign to weaponize energy against Ukraine’s European partners so that they would decide that the costs of supporting the country were too high and he continued to try to raise food and energy prices in some of the poorest countries in the world to manufacture a false choice between supporting Ukraine and making ends meet for their people. President Putin has failed thanks to the remarkable courage and bravery of the Ukrainian people and unprecedented support from Ukraine’s partners. Ukraine endures More than 50 countries have been providing security assistance. Dozens of countries jumped in to help Ukraine defend and repair its energy grid in the face of Russia’s onslaught. We sustained and increased the pressure on Russia with unprecedented sanctions and export controls which are having a dramatic and growing impact. The Kremlin’s usable financial reserves are plummeting its budget. Revenues from oil and gas have been cut in half since last year. Hundreds, even more than 1000 companies have fled the country and aren’t coming back. Hundreds of thousands of young people have fled Russia. Literally Russia’s future. We’ve demonstrated again our unity of purpose and our unity of action. And after this ministerial, I am confident that that will endure for as long as it takes for Ukraine to defend its sovereignty, its territorial integrity, its independence. Yesterday, the United States announced our 35th drawdown of arms and equipment that includes more ammunition for high mars, air defense interceptors and artillery rounds as well as anti-armor systems, small arms, heavy equipment, transport vehicles and maintenance support. These contributions will continue to enable Ukraine to protect civilian infrastructure from missile and drone attacks and to hold and retake Ukraine’s territory. The United States and Ukraine’s partners support meaningful diplomatic efforts that can achieve a peace but not just any kind of peace. It has to be a just peace that upholds the principles of the UN Charter sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence. And it has to be a durable piece that ensures that Russia can’t simply rest and re fit its troops and then relaunch the war at a time of its choosing. That’s the kind of piece a just and durable one that 141 countries at the United Nations General Assembly endorsed just a few weeks ago until that piece is achieved. The United States together with allies and partners from around the world will continue to provide the assistance that Ukraine needs to defend its territory and defend its people. The story of NATO over the last year has been one of unity and resolve amid new challenges to our values to a rules based order to our collective security. Our alliance has emerged stronger than ever and now larger than ever as we prepare for Vilnius and beyond. I’m confident that we’ll continue to meet the challenges of this moment and the time to come. So with that happy to take some questions. We’ll first go to Vivian Salama with the Wall Street Journal, Vivian. Thank you so much. Thanks Mr. Secretary. Um I want to ask you about my colleague Evan Gorsuch, who as of today has been detained in Russia for the last year uh for the last week. Sorry, do you?
It feels like a year. Um Do you anticipate that you will approve a designation of wrongfully detained for Evan?
Um Or do you need to wait however long it will take for the Russians to agree to grant him consular access um for that to even happen. And secondly, uh prisoner swaps have occurred in recent years to bring a number of detained Americans home. Is there anyone that the Russians want or would be willing to exchange, either for Evan or for Paul Whelan, who’s also being held on espionage charges?
And more broadly, are you concerned that there is a precedent being set now by our adversaries who are detaining Americans in the hope that maybe they would get um some sort of prisoner swap in return. Thank you. Thanks very much for uh first, and you’ve heard me say this before. Um from my perspective, from the department’s perspective, there is no higher priority than the safety and security of American citizens around the world. And that includes those who may be wrongfully detained, held hostage, otherwise kept from coming home, being with their families. Um In Evan’s case, we are working through the determination on wrongful detention and there’s a process to do that and it’s something that we’re working through very deliberately but expeditiously as well. Um And I’ll let that process play out in my own mind. There’s no doubt that he’s being wrongfully detained by Russia, which is exactly what I said to Foreign Minister Lavrov when I spoke to him uh over the weekend and uh insisted that uh Evan be released immediately. Um But I want to make sure that as always, because there is a formal process that we go through it and we will and I expect that to be, to be completed soon more broadly when it comes first of all, to, to, to Paul Whelan, as I’ve also said, uh there’s a proposal on the table that’s been on the table for some months again with Foreign Minister Lavrov, I reiterated that Russia should move on that proposal so that we can bring Paul home in any of these instances. Um There is a balance to be done between trying to bring home people who are being unjustly detained in one way or another and what it takes to do that, I believe that as we’ve demonstrated in the past uh and as a result as well of legislation that we have and other tools that we have that even as we engage in efforts to bring people home, we can also increase the pressure and increase the penalties on those who would engage in the practice of unlawful, arbitrary detention of American citizens. And that’s what we’ve been doing, including for example, implementing the Robert Levinson Act and other tools that we have. We’ll next go to Vitali Siza with freedom TV. Thank you. I have one question yesterday. After meeting with you, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine said that he want to see some proposal from during the Wildness Summit today, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia said that Ukraine should be provided this road map of accession to. What are your thoughts about this process, which proposal could expect to get Ukraine during the Wildness Summit. Thank you. Our focus right now is relentlessly on doing what needs to be done to help Ukraine defend itself against the Russian aggression. And indeed to put, put it in a position to retake more of the territory that’s been seized from it by Russia. That’s our intense focus. We’re also looking at what we can do over a longer period of time to build up Ukraine’s capacity to deter aggression, to defend against aggression and if necessary, again in the future to defeat aggression. And a big part of that is bringing Ukraine up to NATO standards and to NATO interoperability. And I suspect that you’ll see that focus continue at the Vilnius Summit. I don’t want to get ahead of the summit, but we are very focused on these very practical steps that can be taken and need to continue to be taken to bring Ukraine up to NATO standards. Of course, NATO’S door remains open, remains open. There’s no, there’s no change in that, but we have to be in this moment focused intensely on the weeks and months ahead, particularly as Ukraine prepares for a counter offensive again to try to retake more of its territory as well as work that needs to be done to continue to bring Ukraine up to NATO standards and NATO interoperability. We’ll next go to Kylie Atwood with CNN. Thank you. Hi, secretary. Thank you for doing this. Um It was a momentous week here, but there’s a lot going on at home. So I have a few questions for you. Um Bear with me. Um In terms of what happened here, obviously, you said that NATO has become stronger this week with Finland joining, but how tangibly will Ukraine benefit from Finland joining NATO?
And then my second two questions have to do with what is happening at home. First President Tsai of Taiwan is meeting with Speaker McCarthy today in California. Do you support this meeting at this time?
And how concerned are you about China already vowing that it will retaliate?
And then my second question has to do with politics at home. Yesterday, the world watched as former President Trump was arrested. He’s now the first current or former president to face criminal charges and he’s running for reelection to be president. Have any of your allies asked you about this while you’ve been here at NATO?
And what’s your response to revived concerns among allies that many of us have heard about the long term reliability of the United States?
Given the polarized nature of politics at home?
Thank you. Um Kylie, last, last question first. Um as you know, well, I don’t do, I don’t do politics. I can tell you though that uh the question you raised um about uh the um proceedings in, in New York actually did not come up in my conversations with uh NATO colleagues nor did I get questions about uh the durability of our um of our approach. I think people are very focused on what we’re actually doing. Uh And what we’re doing is a lot including what I just went through uh in terms of the um outcomes from this ministerial, the preparations for the Leaders Summit in Vilnius, the intense focus on everything we’re doing to support Ukraine to implement the new strategic concept for NATO. Uh That’s what everyone was talking about and focused on. And also, as I mentioned, the fact that we have the the growing engagement between NATO and other partners to include our partners from the Indo Pacific to include the European Union. Its high representative was here as well uh Today, that was the entirety of the uh the conversation and uh and our focus um in terms of uh Finland’s membership in NATO and in Ukraine. Look in the first instance, irrespective of the that question as I’ve detailed uh at, at some length, uh a big focus of our meetings here over the last day, day and a half was on uh on Ukraine. And the support that um virtually every NATO member is providing individually as well as the support that NATO institutionally is providing both in the immediate and also looking toward the, the Vilnius summit I mentioned a moment ago um work that the alliance looks to do to help continue to bring Ukraine up to NATO standards, NATO interoperability. And I think that’s something you’ll see featured at the, at the leaders summit. Finland’s membership in NATO does two things. It, as I said, makes Finland safer because one of the things that resulted from Russia’s aggression against Ukraine was deep and growing concern among a number of countries that they could be next. And that created what I think is truly a historic sea change in both Finland and Sweden seeking membership in NATO and seeking to benefit from its Article five guarantees. So Finland now benefits in that. But Finland also makes the alliance as a whole stronger and that’s important in and of itself. I think it uh may have some additional benefits in the sense that um to the extent Russia thinks about expanding or broadening its aggression, the deterrent that NATO poses to that has now become even stronger. NATO is a defensive alliance. It’s not seeking to engage in conflict with Russia, but it’s a defensive alliance that has to have a strong deterrent precisely because we want to make sure that countries think twice, think three times and then don’t engage in aggression. And I think Finland will membership in the alliance adds to NATO’s deterrent strength and if necessary its defensive strength um with regard to president size, transit of uh of the United States. Um I think the first thing to emphasize is that these um transits by high level uh Taiwanese authorities are nothing new. Um They’re private they’re unofficial, but they’ve been going on for years. And uh President Tsai and her predecessors uh have uh have done the same thing. In fact, every Taiwan president has um transited the United States uh at one point or another. Um the uh meetings, the uh engagements that the president has also are very much in line with uh with president. And similarly, our own approach to Taiwan has remained very consistent and unchanged, including our adherence to the one China policy uh guided by the Taiwan Relations Act three communiques, the six assurances, our opposition to any unilateral changes in the status quo by by either side. So it’s a long way of saying that um given that Beijing should not use the transits as an excuse to take any actions to ratchet up tensions uh to um further push it changing the status quo. Um And our, our objective remains the same to have peace, to have stability uh across the Taiwan strait. And to ensure that any differences that exist between um mainland and Taiwan are resolved peacefully. Final question Ricard Huu with from Y L E. Thanks for taking my question, a follow up on Finland. How do you see that Finland will strengthen the alliance?
And do you see that this decision to join can also strengthen the ties, bilateral ties between the US and Finland, for instance, in regard to a future Defense Cooperation Agreement?
Thank you. Thanks very much. Well, the bilateral ties between the United States and Finland are already extraordinarily strong. Um But I think uh Finland’s membership in the alliance can uh if it does anything, we only uh will only strengthen those ties as well as Finland’s ties to all the other members of NATO. But as I said before, what Finland brings to this enterprise is a country that has very strong military capacity and equally important is a strong and vital democracy. And so both in terms of advancing the interests that bring NATO countries together and the values that we share. Finland is um a very compelling member of the alliance. And I think what’s important too is that um Finland and the NATO Alliance have been working closely together for years. What membership does now is it makes in a sense formal what’s in many ways been the case for a long time, but it also provides Finland with the commitment of every NATO ally to Finland and its security and its defense as a member of NATO and as a beneficiary of Article five. But I would anticipate that, you know, across the board, this has the effect of just further strengthening, deepening relationships, not only between the United States and Finland, but between Finland and all the other members of uh of NATO. We also have now even more increasing overlap between membership in the European Union and membership in NATO. And that too has the effect of creating even greater convergence between the United States and Europe than we’ve seen. In fact, I think In my experience now doing this for 30 years in one way or another, there is more convergence than there’s ever been between the United States and Europe. On the big challenges and questions of our time, dealing with the Russian aggression against Ukraine. Meeting some of the challenges posed by China, looking at new things from cyberspace, emerging technologies and their impact on our security and our interests. Much greater convergence in how we approach each of these challenges than we’ve ever seen. And I think Finland’s membership in NATO is just one more expression of that, but it really is across the board. And it’s something that from my perspective, puts, puts us collectively in a much stronger position to deal effectively with all of these challenges. We started with this administration started with the basic proposition that American engagement, American leadership is important. It makes a difference because in its absence, uh someone else may try to fill the gap and maybe not in ways that advance our interests and values or no one does. And then you’ve got a vacuum that tends to be filled by bad things before it’s filled by good things. But the flip side of that coin, the importance of us engagement is that for virtually all of the challenges that we’re dealing with no single country, even the United States can really effectively address them alone. We’re much better off when we’re doing it in partnership in alliance with other countries and where we adopt a similar approach. That’s been the story of these last 2.5 years, the strengthening of our alliances, creating new partnerships to deal with some of these new challenges uh fit for particular purposes and fundamentally a much greater convergence than there’s ever been between the United States and Europe, between the United States and, and Asia, Asia and Europe on what we need to do to effectively deal with these challenges. And this ministerial just confirms uh confirms that trend, uh confirms that that convergence. Thanks everybody. Thank you. Thanks very much.