Secretary Antony J. Blinken And Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio At a Joint Press Availability

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Rome, Italy

Fiera Roma

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) Good morning, everyone, and welcome to Rome for this very important ministerial conference.  I will hand over right away to Minister Di Maio and Secretary of State Blinken for their opening remarks, and then we’ll take some questions from you.

FOREIGN MINISTER DI MAIO:  (Via interpreter) Thank you, and good afternoon, everyone.  Thank you very much for having come today.  Together with Secretary of State Tony Blinken, we just chaired the plenary ministerial meeting of the anti-Daesh coalition.  The coalition hadn’t met in this format since February of 2019 in Washington, and I must say that I am delighted that we managed to hold a meeting for the first time in Italy this time.  And this shows that we are, in fact, re-jumping, restarting our economies now.

Daesh is a big threat, and we had a chance to debate the solutions that we’ve come up in order to take it down.  Now in March 2019, we managed in fact to have the situation under control, but they continue to be a threat in Iraq in certain areas, and in other territories as well.

Today in the first session of our meeting, we focused on an update of the activities of the coalition in terms of the military operations and the stabilization of the Daesh-free areas.  Of course, we need to also fight the funding sources of Daesh, and we also talked about initiatives in Africa.  It is important to consider the military instruments as well as the civilian instruments that we have at our disposal, because we know that in order to take down Daesh, we need a number of different dimensions in our actions, and we need to also work on counter-messaging to counter their propaganda, and also repatriate foreign terrorist fighters.

Now, for Italy and for the United States, it was important to have the 2021 campaign in order to stabilize the Daesh-free areas in Iraq and in northeastern Syria.  Now, this was a very important activity because we have to ensure the socioeconomic conditions in that region so as to avoid a return of terrorism and violent extremism.  Italy traditionally has been working on this in Iraq; in fact, there is a huge effort on our part in order to allow the displaced persons to return, and we have the United Nations Office for Project Services and the Sinjar Action Fund, which was created by Nadia Murad, the peace prize – Nobel Peace Prize winner.

In northeastern Syria, we are operating with a number of different international organizations in order to support the local population to provide them with livelihood.  And we’re also supporting their agricultural activities.  We’re also working with the World Health Organization in order to contain and curb the pandemic in that area.

Now it was possible today for Italy and the United States to reiterate an important principle, a shared principle: Daesh is very dangerous still, and there are a number of instruments that we can use in order to take action not only in the Middle East.  Now there is an alarming phenomenon taking place on the African continent, and in particular in the Sahel region, but also in Eastern Africa, for example, as in the north of Mozambique.

Now last week I went to Mali and Niger myself.  And in fact, this shows how much Italy is focused on this region.  For this reason, with the support of the United States as well as many other partners, I suggested that we establish an Africa working group.  This way we can identify and curb the Daesh-related terrorist threats on the continent, and we can therefore determine measures, together with our local partners, and they can be put in place through the multilateral initiatives and programs that are already ongoing.

Now we are fearing the expansion and spread of Daesh in Africa, and therefore at the ministerial meeting, we invited some African countries that are not coalition members – Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mozambique, for example.  We invited them as observers to follow our meeting.

And I also took this opportunity today to reiterate the fact that Italy is continuing with its effort to take down Daesh.  And in fact, we’ve always taken a multidimensional approach.  Italy’s commitment is very strong.  We want to protect the security of our citizens, because this is an absolute priority for us.  Italy is one of the main military contributors to the coalition in Iraq.  We were there with our Carabinieri service.  We worked on the training of Iraqi and Kurd military and police forces, and our aircraft continue to do refueling and personnel transport activities as well.

One of our success stories in Iraq and in the coalition is linked to the protection of Iraqi cultural heritage.  Unfortunately, Daesh’s fury had tried to destroy this heritage, and we are also financing archeological activities here, and the taskforce for the heritage is in fact working on trying to combat an illicit trafficking of works of art and archaeological finds.

So there was a briefing during the meeting on all these different subjects, and Italy will continue to focus on counter-messaging to take down the Daesh propaganda, because we think that in addition to fighting their territorial control, we’ve got to fight their ideology as well.

Thank you all very much, and I’m very happy to hand over to the Secretary of State, Mr. Antony Blinken.

(In English) Now give the floor to Secretary Blinken.  Please, Tony.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you so much, Foreign Minister Di Maio.  Luigi, grazie mille, amico.

I am particularly delighted that we’re meeting so soon after the G7, NATO, the U.S.-EU leader summits.  Italy and the United States did significant work together in the leadup to those meetings, and that helped lay the groundwork for the real commitments the countries made at the summits themselves.

And now we’re following up on those commitments, making sure that our countries and others do what we said we would do.  It’s no accident that we started that follow-up in Italy, in France, and Germany this week, the three countries that I visited on this trip.  In addition to being three of our closest partners and strongest allies, they’re the only three countries that are members of the EU, NATO, and the G7, and their leadership will be crucial to delivering on our commitments.

Those commitments include revitalizing NATO, preparing the Alliance to deter adversaries and protect against a new range of threats from cyber attacks to a rapidly changing climate; delivering on the G7’s pledge to get a billion COVID vaccines to people around the world; to invest in much-needed infrastructure projects in developing countries in a way that’s open, sustainable, and empowers communities rather than saddling them with debt; deepening U.S.-EU cooperation across a range of areas, including trade and technology in particular.

Luigi was the first foreign minister to officially visit the State Department in the Biden-Harris administration, and that was just one of the many conversations that we’ve had, the work we’ve done together.  In fact, we even wrote an op-ed together a few months ago.

The reason that we’re in such close communication is because the interests and values of Italy and the United States are closely aligned.  We share a deep commitment to promoting democracy and human rights.  We see the same big challenges on the horizon and we recognize that we can’t tackle them alone, and we shouldn’t try to.  We’re better together, and that is what motivates our partnership.

I have to tell you we’re grateful for Italy’s leadership in putting these challenges at the center of the global agenda.  Italy made combating COVID-19 a focus of the G20 presidency this year as well as ensuring that the recovery not only rebuilds our economies, but tackles inequities within and between countries that the pandemic has only worsened and put in starker relief.  Italy is leading by example in pledging to donate $360 million in funds now to COVAX and sending 15 million vaccine doses from its own supply to lower and middle-income countries around the world.

And as you know, Luigi and I are co-hosting two high-level meetings tomorrow with our fellow foreign ministers focused on serious threats to international stability and security.  Today we began, of course, with the meeting of the Coalition to Defeat ISIS and what we have to do to eradicate what’s left of the terrorist group, and, very critically, as Italy has been emphasizing, to prevent its emergence in places like Africa.  Italy has not only contributed to this counterterrorism effort, but has demonstrated the way countries can take back nationals captured as foreign terrorist fighters.

And this afternoon, we’re also co-sponsoring a second meeting to address the urgent humanitarian crisis in Syria, particularly through broadening cross-border assistance, which is essential to reaching millions of Syrians who are in dire need of food, medicine, COVID vaccines, other lifesaving aid.  I’m announcing today that the United States is providing an additional $436 million in assistance – humanitarian assistance – to Syrians and the communities that host them, and that brings the total U.S. humanitarian assistance in response to the crisis in Syria to nearly $13.5 billion.  We’ll also use the meeting that’s upcoming to refocus on a path to a political solution in Syria, the only way to provide the Syrian people with a foundation upon which to reconcile, make peace, and begin to rebuild.

Of course, the relationship between the United States and Italy is about more than the challenges that we’re faced – that we’re facing and that we’re dealing with today and tomorrow.  Italy graciously hosts more than 34,000 U.S. servicemembers, civilians, their family members, and the U.S. Navy’s 6th Fleet headquarters in Naples.  Our two-way trade in goods and services amounted to about $80 billion last year.  Our direct investment in one another’s economies creates hundreds of thousands of jobs.  And we celebrated the 160th year of our diplomatic relationship.

But we know that the ties between the people of our countries have existed for even longer than that.  You see it in the 20 million Americans who proudly claim Italian heritage, in the Italian American pockets in big cities and small towns across our country, in the Americans who come to Italy every year to study, learn the language, trace their roots, and just enjoy Italy.  It’s hard to see a part of America’s national fabric that is not interwoven with threads from Italy, and we are so much richer for it.

As President Biden has pointed out, we meet at a time when our democracies face a grave threat from adversaries outside who seek to undermine the free and open rules-based order that has long provided the foundation of our shared security and prosperity, and from skeptics inside who question whether democracy can make their lives better in tangible ways.  I am confident that the rights, opportunities, and ability to keep improving on itself, that only democracy can provide, cannot be matched by any other system.  But I also know that if we’re going to overcome these challenges and show that we can deliver, we have to come together, we have to band together with our closest allies and partners.  For the United States, that means Italy.  Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER DI MAIO:  Thank you, Tony.  Thank you very much.

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much.  We can now take a few questions.

(Via interpreter) Matteo Alviti from the Channel 1 news, Rai.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) I have a couple of questions.  Good afternoon.  The first has to do with your co-chairmanship two years after the meeting in Washington, as you yourselves pointed out.  Now there is a strengthened – is there a strengthened up – a stepped-up cooperation between Italy and the U.S. through this co-chairmanship?

My second question has to do with your meeting on Syria, which will be held in a few minutes.  On the issue of multilateralism, what can you tell us in advance of what you think will come up?  And in particular, the role of Turkey, what might that be in connection with the SDF force in Syria?

FOREIGN MINISTER DI MAIO:  (Via interpreter) Well, firstly, I wish to say that Italy is indeed honored and very pleased to have been able to co-chair the meeting this morning, the ministerial meeting of the anti-Daesh coalition.  Certainly, this was a way of showing, as Tony just said, how strong the ties are between Italy and the United States, and that we are indeed cooperating on major global issues.  And this is quite natural if you consider that we are two allies, two great allies.

Now in our fight against international terrorism, no one can do this on their own, so that is why the cooperation between Italy and the United States is absolutely strategic, and it is also a way of recognizing the leading role played by Italy in the coalition.  And in fact, I’ll seize this opportunity to thank all the men and women in uniform, all the members of our armed forces that are engaged in missions abroad and trying to fight terrorism, in fact.

Now the coalition meeting today is taking place in a moment in which we fear that Daesh and ISIS can regain strength – regain their strength.  Now that is why we mustn’t lower our guard.  In fact, it’s an opportunity to tell one another that we must step up the action undertaken by the coalition, but not by shifting our focus, but by increasing the areas in which we can operate.  So this doesn’t only mean the Middle East, but Africa, the Sahel, and also Mozambique and the Horn of Africa.

The meeting on Syria that we will have in just a few minutes – we’ll be co-chairing that together, in fact – that is definitely another important opportunity that we have to have an exchange of views.  And the countries that are most interested in establishing peace in Syria will, of course, give us all a chance to plan our next steps.  Now Italy is supporting the UN program through the Special Envoy Mr. Pedersen, and we also know that the UN program and the institutional committee are initiatives that need to be supported by the allies, the main allies of multilateralism.  So on a bilateral level, Italy and the United States are great friends.  We share values and activities together, of course, and therefore, we must continue to support multilateralism as well, because we think that this is the main tool that we have in order to tackle crises all over the world.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  And I fully subscribe to everything that Luigi just said.  And I think it’s a reflection of the fact that when it comes to our own cooperation – both working together bilaterally but also in multilateral institutions where you see an extremely active Italy playing a leadership role – it’s a reflection of the fact that we both see, we both understand that there’s a greater imperative now than at any other time that I can think of for cooperation among like-minded countries.  Because the simple reality is that not a single one of the issues that we have to deal with that are having an impact on the lives of our citizens in Italy, in the United States, around the world, whether it’s climate change, whether it’s the pandemic, whether it’s the disruptive impact of new technologies, whether it’s the threat posed by terrorism, not a single one can be effectively addressed by any one country acting on its own, even the United States, even Italy.

And so we’re especially grateful at this moment to have such strong allies, partners, and friends as Italy who are taking the lead.  And that reflects itself in the work that we’re doing together; it reflects itself in the work that we’re doing in these international groupings, institutions.  Today is powerful evidence of that.

And just on Syria, we’ll have more to say I’m sure after the meeting.  There is a – an absolute premium here, too, on making sure that we’re doing everything possible to get humanitarian assistance to people in need in Syria.  And that’s going to be a focus of our conversations.  But, of course, that’s the immediate imperative, but the larger objective is to pursue a lasting resolution and peace that Syria so desperately, desperately needs.  And so we’ll make clear our support for a nationwide ceasefire, both to ensure the safe delivery of assistance, but also to try to create more of a foundation upon which the future of Syria can move forward.  But we’ll have more to say I’m sure after the meeting.

MR PRICE:  Our first question goes to Kylie Atwood from CNN.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Foreign Minister, I’d like to start with you.  You’ve said in the past that Italy and China need to forge closer ties, and Italy has been a supporter of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.  Does Italy today maintain steadfast support for the Belt and Road Initiative? And what do you make of Secretary Blinken saying that it would – that a Chinese-led world order would be profoundly illiberal in nature?

FOREIGN MINISTER DE MAIO:  (Via interpreter)  I’d like to be very clear.  And actually, I’d like to thank you for having asked this question, because it gives me once again the opportunity to clarify what Italy’s position is with respect to alliances of value and geopolitical alliances.  And we see eye to eye with the United States in that respect.  We are allies of the United States, we are partners in NATO, we are members of the European Union, and this means that we are part of an alliance of values, which means that we can credibly tackle issues such as human rights violations.  Italy was in the front line, both at a multilateral level within the UN supporting the latest proposal tabled by Canada, for instance, and in the European Union when we supported the sanctions established in the face of human rights violations.  And our position was very clear in the last G7 summit in the UK, during which our leaders discussed the way in which we can enhance the UN’s effectiveness in combating human rights violations.

And I think that if we all around the world speak out in favor of multilateralism and in favor of the United Nations, we really cannot speak about juxtaposition between different countries.  There is a common action of the UN with the contribution of the High-Level Representative Bachelet with regard to human rights violations, and I believe that the UN representative must be in a position to verify whether there have been human rights violations.  And I would like to speak very clearly.  Italy is a strong trade partner of China.  We’ve enjoyed relations that have lasted for years, but they cannot and do not interfere with the alliance of values we have with the United States, we have with NATO, and the European Union.

QUESTION:  Again, could I just follow up with you?  On China specifically, isn’t Italy’s support for China’s Belt and Road Initiative inherently contradictory to their support for the build back better effort that you guys just launched together last week?  And then on your meeting earlier today with Pope Francis, were there any discussions of President Biden receiving Holy Communion?  And on coronavirus, Pope Francis has assessed that those who refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccine are suicidal.  Do you agree?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Kylie, I was about to thank you for addressing your question to Foreign Minister Di Maio, so – but I’ll reserve that.  I think what Luigi said with regard to our approach to China is a very good answer to the question and one that I would simply reiterate.  Look, I think what you’ve seen across the board in recent weeks, particularly at the G7, NATO, the U.S.-EU summit, is an increasing convergence of views among the United States and our European partners and allies about China.  And I think we all recognize the complexity of the relationship, the fact that it is for all of us among the most consequential in the world.  And that complexity manifests itself in the fact that I think we all agree that the relationship has, as I’ve said many times, adversarial aspects, competitive ones, and cooperative ones, too.

And the common denominator is approaching these challenges, whether it’s adversarial, whether it’s competitive, whether it’s cooperative, together.  And increasingly, that’s exactly what you’re seeing.

When it comes to the initiative that we took at the G7, the Build Back Better World, Italy is a participant in that.  We’re going to work over the next months to move that forward.  And the point here is that there is an imperative here, too, around the world for investment in infrastructure in countries that are low and middle-income.  But it needs to be done in a way that’s a race to the top not a race to the bottom.  Italy and our other partners are going to be a full participant in that, and I think that will demonstrate itself in the months ahead.

With regard to the meeting with his holiness the pope, let me just say on a personal level what an honor it was.  The meeting was extremely warm and very wide ranging.  We covered a lot of ground, and I certainly don’t want to speak for his holiness, but just speaking for myself and speaking for the United States, I was very gratified by the meeting and gratified as well by the strong leadership of his holiness on the pandemic, on climate change, on the challenge that we have to address when it comes to irregular migration and refugees, and more broadly, and maybe most important of all, his leadership on the basic proposition that we have to stand for human dignity in everything we do to the best of our ability.

One of the luxuries of my job is that I don’t do domestic politics, and so I’ll simply say that it was truly a wonderful and memorable moment to have had the opportunity to speak to his holiness and to have such a warm and wide-ranging conversation.

QUESTION:  And can I just follow up?  Do you agree with Pope Francis’ assessment that those who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine are engaging in a suicidal effort?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I’m not going to speak for the pope in any way.  I think we strongly believe in the importance of vaccination, of seeing as many people not just in our own countries but around the world get vaccinated and to do so as quickly as possible.  And, of course, one of the reasons that we came together at the G7 to push a billion vaccine doses out around the world is because of the absolute importance of this initiative and the need to be vaccinated.

Look, here is the reality that we’re faced with.  As long as the virus is replicating somewhere, it’s likely to be mutating.  And as long as it’s mutating, there is the distinct possibility that it comes back and bites even those who have been vaccinated, so we have to get ahead of this, and the way to get ahead of this is with the fastest possible vaccination around the world.  That’s why Italy and the United States are working so closely together to make sure that we get vaccines out there.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) Thank you.  Over to Annalisa Rapana, the Italian news agency, ANSA.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) Good evening.  I have a question for Minister Di Maio.  You mentioned the need for the coalition to focus specifically on Africa and on the Sahel.  I’d like to ask you whether this approach is also shared as – and in what way – and why have you underscored the importance of this step that the coalition ought to take – in focusing on Africa, that is?

FOREIGN MINISTER DI MAIO:  (Via interpreter) Thank you for your question.  I would like to start by saying that today the United States expressed its support to the proposal to focus part of the effort in the anti-Daesh coalition effort on Africa, on the Sahel, and on countries affected in that continent.  In my recent missions to Niger and Mali, I witnessed the cry for help of those communities, but this is not only typical to those parts of the continent.  We know that many villages have fallen in the hands of terrorists, and we know that we’re talking about huge territories.

Italy has a number of bilateral agreements with some of these countries, specifically to try and fight climate change and combat desertification.  We know that desertification is the root cause of poverty and of lower living standards, because we know that the amount of farmland is shrinking.  We’re also working with the UNHCR in support of refugees.  The UNHCR has a number of outreach initiatives, and these people can come to Italy, if needed, via legal humanitarian corridors.

The real problem is that the fight against terrorism calls for a holistic approach.  The coalition’s experience enables it to tackle this problem in a holistic fashion.  The institutions of those countries are being weakened on account of the attacks perpetrated by terrorist cells, and the time we speak protecting the Sahel also means protecting Europe and its securities and stopping the illicit trafficking of human beings and weapons.  We could achieve this with a step-to-step approach, but in the coming months we are planning to strengthen the will and – of this coalition.  All countries attending today have supported their – this initiative and we’d like to focus on coordinating via the coalition existing initiatives.  And at the same time, we want to draw a clear roadmap to avert the risk that these terrorist organizations may proliferate.  This doesn’t mean stopping the fight against Daesh in Syria and in Iraq.  It simply means that now, years after the territorial defeat of Daesh in the Middle East, we’re now seeing there’s a number of terrorist cells are proliferating in regions such as the Sahel where, obviously, the main migration routes are present, the routes of those who come to Europe, and climate change, poverty, and terrorism are creating millions and millions of poor people.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  If I could, let me just say very clearly that we strongly support Italy’s initiative to make sure that the coalition against Daesh focuses its expertise on Africa while keeping our eye closely on Syria and on Iraq for all of the reasons that Luigi just cited.  This is of significant importance, and I think we heard a strong consensus today on the part of coalition partners to do just that.

MR PRICE:  Our final question goes to Michael Crowley of The New York Times.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  If I may, I have a question for you both on today’s meeting and then another for each of you separately.  For you both, did today’s meeting make you anymore optimistic about more quickly resolving the fate of the ISIS fighters and their families now held in Syria and Iraq?  And specifically, did any nations make new commitments to repatriate foreign fighters?

For Secretary Blinken, my question to you is on last night’s U.S. airstrikes on militia groups in Iraq and Syria.  The Biden administration conducted similar strikes in February calling them a deterrent, but attacks on U.S. forces continued, prompting this second strike.  Is the U.S. prepared to escalate its response if these strikes do not deter continued attacks on our personnel? And do you hold Iran responsible for these ongoing attacks?

And finally, for Minister Di Maio, the Biden administration recently waived sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany.  Italy has previously expressed concern about the project’s impact on European energy security dynamics.  Are you disappointed that the Biden administration is not doing more to block the pipeline’s completion?  Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER DI MAIO:  (Via interpreter) I would like to start by saying that today’s meeting has also given us the opportunity to take stock of a number of different initiatives that are in place in the fight against Daesh.  And I’m not just talking about military initiatives.  We have the working group against Daesh propaganda.  That is problematic, as we know, because it is a source of radicalization via the web, for instance.  And the other working group that we co-chair together with the United States and Saudi Arabia is the working group to counter, let’s say, the sources of financing for – of terrorist groups.  And we had a full group format meeting today, which enabled us to identify the next dates on which we will continue to pursue our initiative, both in terms of propaganda and countering financing.

But the best way to counter terrorism and Daesh is to strengthen local institutions, and as member-states of the coalition, and in more general terms, as countries and people who believe in multilateralism, we are striving to increase development assistance investment.  Development assistance is something Italy has always believed in, and this is what has guided Italy’s position in many different theaters.  Italy intends to increase its development assistance, its ODA, to support institutions in Afghanistan, for instance, because withdrawing, militarily speaking, from Afghanistan doesn’t mean pulling out of Afghanistan altogether; on the contrary.  For Italy, this means making an additional effort to strengthen institutions through development cooperation, through police and local forces training programs.

That said, with regard to the topic of diversification of energy sources, Italy has just completed the Trans Adriatic Pipeline precisely with a view to differentiating energy supply sources, particularly with regard to gas.  And Italy continues to believe that as far as energy goes and as far as energy production goes, we need to invest more and more in new technologies and we have to have a diversified energy mix.  We have, at the moment, a number of European programs underway, such as the one that aims to promote hydrogen production.  And I look ahead for the future of the European Union and our member-countries with common policies, with renewable sources of energy, and with transition instruments such as gas.  We believe that it will be possible for us to reduce significantly the dependence on imported sources.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you, Michael.  So on the question of foreign terrorist fighters, we spent some time talking about that today in the meeting.  And there is a need for countries to take action to repatriate foreign fighters that come from those countries, to prosecute them where appropriate, to rehabilitate and reintegrate them where appropriate.  And there is some urgency to this.  I noted in the meeting a number of countries that have taken very concrete steps, including, by the way, Italy, as well as the United States, but also a number of other countries, for example, in Central Asia, as well as in the Balkans that have taken important steps.  But more work clearly needs to be done.  The number of foreign terrorist fighters who are in detention in Syria is significant.  The larger group that comprises their family members, women, children is also a significant concern.

And I think the strong message coming out of today’s meeting was the need for countries to do more to that end.  So we’ll see going forward as countries, I hope, step up to this need.  It is something of tremendous importance in terms of making sure that we’re getting people off of and away from the battlefield, and hopefully to a place where they will either face further justice or, in some cases at least, hopefully can be rehabilitated and reintegrated.  But we’ll see the results in the weeks and months ahead.

With regard to the strike last night, at the President’s direction, U.S. military forces conducted airstrikes against facilities used by Iranian-backed militia groups in the Iraq-Syria border region. They targeted facilities used by groups responsible for recent attacks on U.S. interests in Iraq. Specifically, they targeted operational and weapons storage facilities at two locations in Syria, one location in Iraq, both with – very close to the border between the countries.  Several Iran-backed militia groups, including KH, including KSS, use these facilities.  We have been very clear, the President has been very clear throughout, that we will act to protect U.S. personnel.  And given these ongoing attacks that you referred to by Iran-backed groups targeting our interests in Iraq, he directed further military action – we had taken action previously – to disrupt and deter these attacks.

We took necessary, appropriate, deliberate action that is designed to limit the risk of escalation, but also to send a clear and unambiguous deterrent message.  This action in self-defense to do what’s necessary to prevent further attacks, I think, sends a very important and strong message. And I hope very much that it is received by those who are intended to receive it.

QUESTION:  If I may just follow up, Mr. Secretary, the first airstrikes were described as having a deterrent purpose and appear not to have served that purpose.  Are you prepared to describe what action the United States might take should the militia attacks continue?  Would the U.S. escalate its response?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I think we’ve demonstrated, both with the actions taken last night and actions taken previously, that the President is fully prepared to act and act appropriately and deliberately to protect U.S. interest, to protect our people, to protect our personnel.  And again, I would hope that the message sent by the strikes last night will be heard and deter future action.

QUESTION:  And the one other part of my question, I had asked whether you hold Iran responsible for these attacks.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, a number of the groups involved in recent attacks are militia that are backed by Iran.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) Thank you very much.  That is all we have time for.

 

More from: Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

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    What GAO Found GAO identified 70 efforts to develop hypersonic weapons and related technologies that are estimated to cost almost $15 billion from fiscal years 2015 through 2024 (see figure). These efforts are widespread across the Department of Defense (DOD) in collaboration with the Department of Energy (DOE) and, in the case of hypersonic technology development, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). DOD accounts for nearly all of this amount. Hypersonic Weapon-related and Technology Development Total Reported Funding by Type of Effort from Fiscal Years 2015 through 2024, in Billions of Then-Year Dollars The majority of this funding is for product development and potential fielding of prototype offensive hypersonic weapons. Additionally, it includes substantial investments in developing technologies for next generation hypersonic weapons and a smaller proportion aimed at countering hypersonic threats. Hypersonic weapon systems are technically complex, and DOD has taken several steps to mitigate some of the challenges to developing them. For example, DOD has attempted to address challenges posed by immature technologies and aggressive schedules by pursuing multiple potential technological solutions so that it has options. Other challenges DOD is addressing relate to industrial base and human capital workforce investments needed to support large-scale production and the availability of wind tunnels and open-air flight test ranges needed to test hypersonic weapons. DOE and NASA have agreements with DOD on supporting roles, but DOD itself has not documented the roles, responsibilities, and authorities of the multitude of its organizations, including the military services, that are working on hypersonic weapon development. Such governing documentation would provide for a level of continuity when leadership and organizational priorities inevitably change, especially as hypersonic weapon development efforts are expected to continue over at least the next decade. Without clear leadership roles, responsibilities, and authorities, DOD is at risk of impeding its progress toward delivering hypersonic weapon capabilities and opening up the potential for conflict and wasted resources as decisions over larger investments are made in the future. Why GAO Did This Study Hypersonic missiles, which are an important part of building hypersonic weapon systems, move at least five times the speed of sound, have unpredictable flight paths, and are expected to be capable of evading today's defensive systems. DOD has begun multiple efforts to develop offensive hypersonic weapons as well as technologies to improve its ability to track and defend against them. NASA and DOE are also conducting research into hypersonic technologies. The investments for these efforts are significant. This report identifies: (1) U.S. government efforts to develop hypersonic systems that are underway and their costs, (2) challenges these efforts face and what is being done to address them, and (3) the extent to which the U.S. government is effectively coordinating these efforts. This is a public version of a sensitive report that GAO issued in January 2021. Information that DOD deemed to be sensitive has been omitted. GAO collected and reviewed information from DOD, DOE, and NASA to identify hypersonic weapons development efforts from fiscal years 2015 through 2024. GAO also analyzed agency documentation and interviewed agency officials.
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    The four efforts within the Next Generation Combat Vehicles (NGCV) portfolio all prioritize rapid development, while using different acquisition approaches and contracting strategies. Some of the efforts use the new middle-tier acquisition approach, which enables rapid development by exempting programs from many existing DOD acquisition processes and policies. Similarly, the efforts use contracting strategies that include both traditional contract types as well as more flexible approaches to enable rapid development of technology and designs. Vehicles of the Next Generation Combat Vehicles Portfolio The two programs within the portfolio that recently initiated acquisitions—Mobile Protected Firepower and Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle—have taken some steps to mitigate risks in cost and technology consistent with GAO's leading practices. The Army's use of the middle-tier approach for these efforts may facilitate rapid development, but the programs could benefit from additional application of GAO's leading practices. For example, the programs identified some risks in their cost estimates, but because each presented a single estimate of the total cost—referred to as a point estimate—these estimates do not fully reflect how uncertainty could affect costs. Similarly, the programs took some steps to mitigate technical risk by limiting development to 6 years or less and incrementally introducing new technologies, steps consistent with GAO's leading practices. However, by delaying key systems engineering reviews, the programs took some steps not consistent with leading practices, which could increase technical risk. While trade-offs may be necessary to facilitate rapid development, more consistent application of GAO's leading practices for providing cost estimates that reflect uncertainty and conducting timely systems engineering reviews could improve Army's ability to provide insight to decision makers and deliver capability to the warfighter on time and at or near expected costs. The Army has taken actions to enhance communication, both within the Army and with Department of Defense stakeholders, to mitigate risks. Within the Army, these actions included implementing a cross-functional team structure to collaboratively develop program requirements with input from acquisition, contracting, and technology development staff. Program officials also coordinated with other Army and Department of Defense stakeholders responsible for cost and test assessment, even where not required by policy, to mitigate risk. The Army views the NGCV portfolio as one of its most critical and urgent modernization priorities, as many current Army ground combat vehicles were developed in the 1980s or earlier. Past efforts to replace some of these systems failed at a cost of roughly $23 billion. In November 2017, the Army began new efforts to modernize this portfolio. GAO was asked to review the Army's plans for modernizing its fleet of ground combat vehicles. This report examines (1) the acquisition approaches and contracting strategies the Army is considering for the NGCV portfolio, (2) the extent to which the Army's efforts to balance schedule, cost, and technology are reducing acquisition risks for that portfolio, and (3) how the Army is communicating internally and externally to reduce acquisition risks. GAO reviewed the acquisition and contracting plans for each of the vehicles in the portfolio to determine their approaches; assessed schedule, cost, and technology information—where available—against GAO's leading practice guides on these issues as well as other leading practices for acquisition; and interviewed Army and DOD officials. GAO is making three recommendations, including that the Army follow leading practices on cost estimation and systems engineering to mitigate program risk. In its response, the Army concurred with these recommendations and plans to take action to address them. For more information, contact Jon Ludwigson at (202) 512-4841 or ludwigsonj@gao.gov.
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