October 18, 2021

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Secretary Antony J. Blinken Remarks to the Press

25 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

IBEW Local #5

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good afternoon. You all spent some quality time in Pittsburgh, I hope. I don’t want to leave. It’s been great. What’s going on?

QUESTION: So yesterday you said you were enthusiastic about the TTC meeting. Would you say the European Union and the United States are moving past their grievances or are you still concerned about European leaders feeling ignored and disappointed by President Biden?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Oh, I think what we’ve seen just over the last couple of days is the United States and the European Union working more closely together than ever before and actually tackling a lot of issues and challenges that are having a real, direct impact on the lives of citizens in both the United States and in Europe, and doing it in a spirit not just of cooperation and collaboration but actually trying to get real results. So we have now in place a process through this Trade and Technology Council where we are working with not just among the ministers or the secretaries but with working groups that are working literally every week, day in, day out, to make progress on the issues.

Because the bottom line is this: When the United States and Europe can come together and work together on issues of trade and technology, we have a tremendous ability to shape the way all of that goes forward in the future – the rules, the norms, the standards that affect trade and affect the way that technology is used. When you’ve got almost half of the world’s GDP working together to do that based on the values that we share, the democratic values we share, that’s a very, very powerful thing.

So I think you saw in the statement we – that we put out a lot of good, practical, concrete work done on everything from artificial intelligence to semiconductors to export controls to investment screening to non-market distortive practices in trade. We’ll be meeting again probably early next year, but between here and there we have our teams working literally all the time to come to common positions and to use our collective weight to shape the way a lot of this is done going forward.

QUESTION: Will the G20 in Rome be an opportunity for President Trump to discuss this issue and particularly to discuss with China the issue of the non-market economy? And what kind of answer would you like to receive from China?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I think what – from the perspective of both the United States and Europe, we are similarly aggrieved by a number of practices that China is engaged in when it comes to trade and commercial relations that are almost structural in nature, including the subsidization of state-owned enterprises, some of the forced technology transfer, the problem with theft of intellectual property, and a number of other things that are distortive and simply don’t allow for a level playing field.

So we certainly intend to engage China on these questions. So do our European partners. And again, when we’re doing that together, I think there’s a much greater chance in seeing China change some of the – some of those practices.

At the same, we know there are ongoing commitments that China made, including in the Phase One trade deal negotiated by the previous administration in terms of commitments to purchase certain things that we believe China should be held to. But the bottom line is there is an important agenda – trade, investment with China for all of us is important and something that we want to sustain. But it has to be done fairly. It has to be done on a level playing field. It has to be done in a way that doesn’t disadvantage our workers, our companies, or for that matter the workers and companies of our partners.

QUESTION: Secretary, do you see any signs that the release of Huawei’s CFO from Canada and the two Canadians from China has done anything to jumpstart progress on other key issues in U.S.-China relations?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, needless to say we’re very – we’re glad, very glad, to see that the two Michaels have been able to return home, as well certainly our own American citizens. That’s very important. But the – there’s a larger problem that remains, and it’s not just – it’s not just China. Other countries are engaged in this practice of arbitrarily detaining the citizens of other countries for political purposes, and that should be totally unacceptable. And we will work with other countries to make it increasingly clear that that is unacceptable and that there has to be a stop to it. And that’s totally separate and apart from any other issue that we may be engaged in with China or with anyone else.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, on China, there are reports the United States is trying to get China to cut its oil imports from Iran. Do you think that’s an effective way to get the Iranians back to the negotiating table?

And then if I may, on North Korea, Kim Jong-un today said he wants to restore the inter-Korean hotline while criticizing the United States. And that’s a day after saying the North test-fired a hypersonic missile, which I believe is the third missile they’ve fired in September. What do you make of this latest behavior?

And then if you’ll indulge me for one last one, apparently General Milley is pointing a lot of blame at the State Department for waiting too long to conduct the Afghanistan NEO. Did State Department wait too long to conduct the NEO?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: So let me see if I can take – I’ll try and take all three of those.

First, with regard to Iran, as you know, we’ve been engaged in an effort in Vienna to see if we can get a return to mutual compliance with the nuclear agreement, the so-called JCPOA. We’ve been engaged in that in very good faith for many months. I think we had six or seven rounds of conversations – unfortunately not direct, because the Iranians refused to engage directly with us. But I think we demonstrated in those talks with the European partners, with China, with Russia that we were fully prepared to go back into compliance with the JCPOA if Iran was prepared to do the same thing. And to date, they have not demonstrated a willingness to do that.

They’ve been away from the talks now for three months. Now, they had an election, a new government was formed, but they’ve not re-engaged with the talks. So the jury is out on that and the ball remains in their court, but not for long. Because the problem that we face now, or at least the problem we will face in the time ahead, is that because of the work that Iran is doing on its nuclear program in violation of the JCPOA – spinning more sophisticated centrifuges, building up stockpiles of uranium enriched to 20 percent or even 60 percent – simply getting back to the terms of the JCPOA at some point will not be sufficient to recapture the benefits of the agreement because of the progress Iran has made.

So there is a limited runway on that and the runway is getting – is getting shorter. We’ve been talking to all of the other countries engaged in this effort with us, including China, about this. And I think there’s an understanding among the Europeans, among the Russians, among the Chinese that the possibilities of getting back to the JCPOA under its own terms are not indefinite. And our hope and expectation is that all of our partner countries in this will prevail upon Iran to quickly return and see if we can still get back to the JCPOA.

On North Korea, we’re evaluating and assessing the launches that you’ve referred to to understand exactly what they did, what technology they used. But regardless, we’ve seen repeated violations now of UN Security Council resolutions that the international community needs to take very seriously. Our envoy for North Korea is now actually talking to the South Koreans and the Japanese. So we’re engaged in very active conversations with them on the way forward.

The question of inter-Korean dialogue, inter-Korean work, that – we certainly support that in principle. We leave that as well to our South Korean allies as they look to see if there are ways to move forward. And certainly, if there are any measures that can appropriately reduce the risks that exist, that probably makes sense. But I think we are concerned about these repeated violations of Security Council resolutions that create, I think, greater prospects for instability and insecurity.

And then finally, with regard to Afghanistan, first, it bears repeating: The President made the right decision to end America’s longest war. He made the right decision not to send a third generation of Americans to Afghanistan to fight and die there. We engaged in an extraordinary evacuation effort and mission. We got 125,000 people out of Afghanistan under some of the most challenging conditions possible. As the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Milley said himself, no one anticipated that the security forces of Afghanistan as well as the government would collapse in the short period of time they did. And I don’t think anyone can say that we took any of the decisions that we took alone, one agency making the decision. Everything we did, we did collectively as a team through a process, and every voice was heard and listened to in that process. And we did it together.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you all.

MODERATOR: All right. Thank you. That’s all.

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