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Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Christiane Amanpour of CNN – United States Department of State

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QUESTION:  Secretary Blinken, welcome to the program.  I just wanted to ask you, because you’ve just been meeting with your Ukrainian counterpart —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Christiane, great to be with you.

QUESTION:  — who has told you all that they need weapons faster, faster, and faster.  So is it true that NATO is running out of ammunition for, for instance, artillery that the Ukrainians are using?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Christiane, from day one – in fact, even before day one, before the Russian aggression started but we saw it coming – we’ve been working with the Ukrainians to get them what they need to defend themselves and to push back the Russian aggression.  In every step along the way, in consultation with them, in consultation with allies and partners, we’ve adjusted as the nature of the aggression has shifted to make sure that they were getting into their hands as quickly as possible exactly what they needed to deal with Putin’s war.  And that process continues.

We’re now very focused on air defense systems – and not just us – many other countries.  And we’re working to make sure that the Ukrainians get those systems as quickly as possible, but also as effectively as possible, making sure that they’re trained on them, making sure that they have the ability to maintain them.  And all of that has to come together, and it is.  We have a very deliberate process established by the Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, in Ramstein, Germany that meets regularly to make sure that the Ukrainians are getting what they need when they need it.

QUESTION:  So let me ask you, then, about the somewhat confusion from the Pentagon and from you all at NATO regarding American Patriots.  As you say, they definitely need anti-air defense systems, and clearly you must think they need more as Putin ratchets up his missile attack and his missile wars against cities.  So will the United States give Patriot systems, and if not, why not?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So I’m not going to speak to specific systems.  The Pentagon is focused on that.  What we’ve been working to do is to make sure that, at any given time, they have the most effective systems possible to deal with the threat that they’re facing.  We just recently, for example, provided them with a very effective system called NASAMs that they’re using very effectively.  Before that, of course, we had the HIMARs, which they used to great effect both in southern and eastern Ukraine.

So virtually every single day, Christiane, the Pentagon is looking at this, listening to the Ukrainians, consulting with allies and partners, and, if we don’t have something, trying to find it elsewhere.  That’s part of this entire coordination process.

QUESTION:  What goes through your mind when you see how President Putin and the Russian military is basically shifting from what you all are terming failures on the battlefield and losses of territory to this relentless, relentless attack on the cities?  Again, are you satisfied that as much anti-air and the sophisticated missile defense systems are getting to them in time?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Christiane, what we’re seeing, to put it in one word, is barbaric.  And precisely because Putin is not able to succeed on battlefield, he’s taking the war to Ukraine’s civilians.  And he’s doing it in a very deliberate way – going after the entire energy and electric infrastructure to turn off the lights, to turn off the water, to turn off the heat, and that at a time when of course Ukraine is heading into winter.

The head of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, talked about weaponizing winter, and that’s exactly what Putin is doing.  It’s also why not only are we seized with making sure that Ukraine has the systems it needs to defend itself, but we’re also seized with making sure that we’re doing everything possible – again, as quickly as possible – to help them repair and replace everything that’s being destroyed by the Russian onslaught.

And just as we put this process together some months ago in Ramstein, Germany to get them the defensive weapons systems that they need, so too we’re doing that with energy, with equipment, with transformers, with generators, with spare parts.  We met here in Bucharest not just with NATO Allies but with the G7 countries and some other countries to put in place a very coordinated process to make sure that, as fast we can, we’re getting Ukraine what it needs to get through the winter, to make sure that men, women, children are not literally freezing to death.

We heard from Foreign Minister Kuleba, my friend and counterpart, who just came from Kyiv and described for all of the ministers here what life is like under this Russian onslaught.  And by the way, this is not normal.  This is the brutalization of a country and directly attacking everything its civilians, its citizens need to simply survive.  And I hope that the world understands it and sees it that way.  We are seized with this and we’re acting on it to get Ukraine everything we possibly can to get through the winter.

QUESTION:  So just one last question, then, on this issue of weaponry and what they need.  You know The New York Times has reported that you all at NATO are considering investing in, for instance, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria – factories that have made Soviet-era ammunition – for artillery that apparently Ukraine is mostly using.  Is that correct?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We’re looking at every option to make sure that, again, they get what they need and what can be most effective for them.  Some of that does to go Soviet-era systems that they’ve had in their inventory for decades and, for example, making sure that the ammunition is there for those systems.  And in some cases that may require producing things that haven’t been produced for some time.  So we are looking across the board at all of that.

And Christiane, even as we’re working to get Ukraine what they need most urgently, we’re also working to make sure that, over the medium and long term, we’re helping them build up their capacity to deter and defend against future aggression, because when this war eventually comes to an end, one of the things that’s going to be so critical is making sure that we’ve done everything possible to ensure that it doesn’t repeat itself, that Russia doesn’t renew its aggression against Ukraine.  Part of that is making sure that Ukraine has over the long term the ability to deter aggression and to defend itself if aggression comes.

QUESTION:  Can I move on to Iran?  Because on the one hand, you and others obviously accuse Iran of supplying the Russians with much weaponry, but also especially these kamikaze drones that have caused a huge amount of damage and death.  But I also want to ask you about your reaction to reports that Iran has told you and the international community and the IAEA that it plans to upgrade and increase its production and purity – power – of uranium near to bomb capacity, move that to an area that’s difficult for you all to attack – I believe it’s the Fordow – and to increase its nuclear fuel production in other places that both the United States and Israel are accused of having sabotaged.

What is your reaction to that?  Have they told you that?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, first, Christiane, I think the world is rightly focused on what’s happening on the streets in Iran throughout the country, and that is incredibly brave young people – mostly women – who are standing up speaking out for their most basic rights.  And that of course has been the case since the killing of Mahsa Amini some months ago.  And that’s where the world’s focus is; that’s where our focus is.  We’ve taken steps, as you know, to sanction those who’ve been responsible for trying to repress people peacefully protesting.  We have worked as well to make sure that Iranians have, to the best of our ability, the communications technology that they need to continue to communicate with one another and to stay connected to the outside world.

At the same time, we have continued to believe that the best way to deal with Iran’s nuclear program is through diplomacy.  As you know, we had an agreement, the so-called JCPOA, that put Iran’s nuclear program in a box.  Unfortunately, the decision was made to pull out of that agreement, and what we’ve seen virtually ever since is Iran building back its program.  We’ve been very clear with them – and not just the United States, but others, including European partners – that they should not take additional steps to increase their nuclear capacity, including by enriching to higher levels.  And if they pursue that direction, we’ll be prepared to respond.

QUESTION:  Regarding the protests inside, we’ve seen some Iranian protesters at the actual games in Doha – the World Cup – be wrestled to the ground for wearing the woman life – Women, Life, Freedom t-shirt and other such things.  We know that the match between the United States and Iran last night, which the U.S. won, was highly charged to the point that President Biden, who’s not known as a soccer fan, said afterwards: USA, USA; that’s a big game, man; they did it; God love ‘em.  So all of this is going on around these very serious issues that you’re talking about.  Is there anything that the United States will do to support the protests, this – other than sanctioning some of the people who you’ve said that you’ve sanctioned?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, first, Christiane, I watched the game last night.  I think Team USA performed remarkably.  I also have to salute the performance of the Iranian players throughout the tournament, as well as in the game yesterday.  And yes, it was a highly charged atmosphere, but I’m glad that the players actually had a chance to play the game and that we got the result that we got.

But this is – what’s happening in Iran is first and foremost about Iranians, about their future, about their country, and it’s not about us.  And one of the profound mistakes that the regime makes is to try to point the finger at others – at the United States, Europeans – claiming that we are somehow responsible for instigating or otherwise fanning the flames of the protests.  That is to profoundly, fundamentally misunderstand their own people.

But as I said, not only have we sanctioned those responsible for cracking down on protesters, we’ve also worked to make sure that, again, to the best of our ability, technology, communications technology that the Iranian people need in order to continue to be able to communicate with one another and to be connected to the outside world is available to them.  And so we’re focused on that.

There are other steps that we’re taking diplomatically, across international organizations and with many other countries, to make clear how the world sees the repression that’s going on in Iran to try to hold down those who are simply trying to peacefully express their views.  But the main focus has to remain on the Iranian people.  This is about what they want, what they need, what they expect.

QUESTION:  And finally, your next trip is to China.  I believe it’s going to be your first such trip as Secretary of State.  And President Biden has been, and he was trying to, as he said, lower the temperature and make sure that we don’t enter a new Cold War.  But I want to ask you, given what China did along with Saudi Arabia to block any meaningful word on fossil fuels and emissions at COP27 – and the fact that all they pretty much talk about in terms of international relations are security and Taiwan – if they’re not going to play ball on climate and if they’re angry about Taiwan, and particularly Nancy Pelosi’s visit, what is it that you all have to talk about?  What can you hope to get out of visiting China?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, first, Christiane, President Biden and President Xi had, I think, an important meeting in Bali, and one that was productive in the sense that it’s vitally important that we communicate clearly and directly to one another about our interests, about our intentions, about our policies because – precisely because we’re in a competition with China, the potential for miscommunication, for not at least understanding what each other is trying to do, that’s something we have to guard against.  And that’s necessary particularly if, as President Biden has said, we want to ensure that the competition we’re engaged in does not veer into conflict.  No one has an interest in that.

So first and foremost, the trip that I’ll take early next year is about continuing that communication, making sure that we have lines of communication that are open, that are clear even when we disagree and, indeed, disagree profoundly.  The world also expects us to manage this relationship responsibly, to make sure that – again, to the best of our ability – we avoid any conflict and, yes, that where we’re able to cooperate, especially on issues that affect not only Americans and not only Chinese but people around the world, that we at least try to do that.

It’s going to be up to China to decide whether it wants to participate in that kind of cooperation on things like climate, on global health, on the macroeconomic environment that we’re all living in as we try to get beyond COVID and pursue an economic recovery.  We can’t decide that for China.  We can make clear that we’re prepared to engage and to cooperate where it’s in our interest to do so and where the world expects that of us.  China will have to decide whether it wants to do the same thing.

QUESTION:  Well, I’m being told that we’ve run out of time, Secretary Blinken.  I just wonder whether you will answer one more question on the French president’s state visit.  Do you have time?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Go ahead, Christiane.

QUESTION:  Okay.  French President Macron is being hosted by President Biden.  It’s the first Biden administration state dinner, state visit.  And at the same time, there is a – quite a difference between what Europe and the United States is saying – for instance, over trade; Macron’s accused the U.S. of an aggressive protectionism approach, plus the whole price of gas – they want a lower price of gas.  What do you think will come out of this visit for Europe, and what are you hearing from your European colleagues now?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, we’re really looking forward to this visit.  It is, as you said, the first state visit for President Biden, and I think the fact that President Macron is the first person that the President’s welcoming on a state visit speaks volumes about the importance that we attach to the relationship.  Not only that, what I’ve seen over the last two years – with France specifically, Europe more generally, including the European Union – is greater and greater convergence on the issues that matter most, whether it’s Ukraine, whether it’s the approach to China, whether it’s dealing with everything from climate to food insecurity to energy.

And do we have differences on certain things?  Of course.  We always do, but we always work through them.  And so, for example, when it comes to some concerns that we’ve heard in Europe over some of the provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act that go to creating incentives for investing in the United States – we’ve heard some concerns expressed by our European partners – we immediately set up a task force with the European Union to work through those concerns, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.

QUESTION:  Secretary of State Antony Blinken, thank you so much for joining me.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks.  Great to be with you.

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