Secretary Antony J. Blinken With John Dickerson of CBS’s Face the Nation

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Brussels Media Hub

Brussels, Belgium

QUESTION:  We begin this morning with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is in Brussels.  Good morning, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  John, good to see you.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, the President wrote in The Washington Post that one of the purposes of this meeting would be to demonstrate that democracies can confront autocracies, but the Russian gas pipeline is going into Germany.  China is heavily invested in many European countries.  What appetite did the President find for confrontation among these democracies whose economies are so enmeshed with autocracies?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, John, first, let’s take a step back.  The proposition that the President had is we need to demonstrate that democracies can deliver in all sorts of ways to better the lives of our people.  And that’s exactly what he’s demonstrated just in the last couple of days alone at the G7.  Look at what’s come out of this summit.  By the way, I’ve been involved in these G7s for probably 25 years. This is the most consequential one I’ve been involved in.  A billion shots in arms around the world with the COVID vaccine; dealing in a very meaningful way with climate change in terms of getting a prohibition on financing coal projects around the world, the largest single contributor to global warming; a commitment on the 15 percent minimum global corporate tax, a powerful way of increasing the tax base for countries around the world, avoiding a race to the bottom in terms of corporate taxation; making sure countries have the resources to invest in their people, in infrastructure, in health care, in technology and new markets for our products at the same time. 

And finally, this Build Back Better World, which is taking to the world what we’re already doing at home, helping use this moment, this inflection point to pool the resources of all of the democracies to invest in and get the private sector to invest in low and middle-income countries to strengthen their health systems, their infrastructure, their technology.  And that’s going to also benefit us.

So I say all this because it’s important that the President’s basic proposition – we have to show democracies coming together can deliver real results.  That’s already what we’ve shown.

QUESTION:  Right, those are —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  When it’s – when it comes to dealing with – go ahead, John.

QUESTION:  Well, those are those are some results, but when it comes to confronting China, I mean, you’ve talked about the ongoing genocide in China.  That’s very strong language.  Other U.S. officials have said that China is assaulting basic human values.  What appetite is there among those the President is meeting to use that kind of harsh language?  And at the end of the day, what does that language do to change Chinese behavior in the first place?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, first, one of the things you’re seeing out of the G7 is in the communique that I think is about to be released, a focus on China.  Go back to 2018, the last time the G7 came together in person, there wasn’t even a mention of China in the communique.  I think that is evidence in and of itself that countries are concerned across the board in many of China’s actions.  It’s a complicated relationship for virtually all of the G7 countries.  It’s in some aspects adversarial, in other aspects competitive, and in other aspects cooperative.  But the common denominator, and I think this is where these countries are coming together, is we need to be able to deal with China in all of those areas coming from a position of strength and coming from a united position.

QUESTION:  Let me —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I think what the President was able to do in these last couple of days was bring countries closer together in dealing with some of the challenges posed by China.  And we can talk about Xinjiang or any of the others if you like.

QUESTION:  I’d like to move on to Russia in a moment, but let me ask about the Chinese have said they’re not going to help the US investigate the potential of a lab leak in the start of COVID-19.  Does the US have any sway in getting cooperation from the Chinese?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I think the – not only the United States but the world is insisting on it.  One of the things that’s coming out of the G7 is an insistence that the WHO be able to move forward with China cooperating on this so-called phase two report to build on the initial report, which had real problems with it, not the least of which was China’s failure to cooperate. 

And here’s the thing, John:  Coming out of this, we need a couple of things.  We need to understand what happened. We need to get to the bottom of it. And we’re working on that through the WHO.  We’re also working on that ourselves.  The President ordered a 90-day sprint led by our Intelligence Community to try to get to the bottom of it.  And the main purpose is to make sure that knowing what happened, why it happened, how it happened, we can put in place what’s necessary to prevent it from happening again or at least to mitigate the next outbreak.  China has to cooperate with that.  Transparency, access for international experts, information sharing – that has to happen.  And again, I think you’re seeing countries coming together to insist on that.

QUESTION:  Let me move on to Russia. I asked one of your predecessors, Condoleezza Rice, former secretary of state, how to judge the meeting with Putin.  She said ignore the theater review – the theater reviews of it, ignore the moment.  But look several months down the road to see if the Russians have gotten the messages that have been delivered privately.  So what should we look for in six months or so that will show that there have been fruits of this actual meeting?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Look, I think Secretary Rice is exactly right.  This is not a light-switch moment.  This is about the President wanting to do two things, and he’s been very clear about it: to tell President Putin directly that we seek a more predictable, stable relationship, and if we’re able to do that, there are areas where it’s in our mutual interest to cooperate; but if Russia continues to take reckless and aggressive actions, we’ll respond forcefully, as we’ve already done when it comes to election interference, when it comes to the SolarWinds cyber attack, when it comes to the attempt to poison and kill Mr. Navalny.  And this is a beginning of testing that proposition.  And Russia will have to decide by its actions which direction it wants to go in.  And I think Secretary Rice is exactly right that we’ll see that play out in the months ahead.

QUESTION:  Let me ask you:  Russia has joined a new agreement against cyber hacking, but those kinds of agreements have existed before.  And this is why people look to these kinds of international meetings with a heavy degree of skepticism. Why should the United States trust Russia in this new agreement when the United States believes that Russia has broken all the previous ones?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  It’s not a matter of trust.  I think someone once said trust but verify.  I’d say don’t trust and verify.  We’ll see by Russia’s actions whether it will make good on any commitments it makes.  Here’s the thing:  We’ve now been the victim of ransomware attacks, and many of these attacks come from criminal organizations, not necessarily from states, but countries have an obligation.  No responsible country should be in the business of harboring criminal groups engaged in these attacks.  And this is one of the things that President Biden’s going to be taking up with President Putin.

QUESTION:  When – during the early days after 9/11, the US position was if you harbored a terrorist, you’re just like the terrorist.  Is there an analogy there on cyber crime?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yeah, there is an analogy there, because we know the tremendous damage this can do. We know the vulnerabilities. One of the things the President is insisting on is a very aggressive effort, first of all, to shore up our defenses.  And that means working very closely with the private sector, since a lot of this infrastructure is actually controlled by the private sector, not the government.  It means putting in place all of the tools that we need to disrupt these ransomware networks and efforts.  That requires a lot of coordination with other countries.  That’s exactly what we’ve been engaged in, including here at the G7 and now at NATO.  And again, making it very clear that any country that harbors these groups, that’s not a sustainable proposition and we’re going to need to take action to stop that.

QUESTION:  As an illustration of the trickiness of the U.S. relationship with Russia, on the one hand, the US is working with Russia to revive the nuclear deal with Iran.  On the other hand, The Washington Post is reporting Russia is preparing to supply Iran with advanced satellite systems, which threaten US interests.  So are the Russians going to pay a penalty for offering those advanced satellite systems or do we need them in the nuclear talks so maybe we’ll move past that?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  First, when it comes to the nuclear talks, we’re not trading any other issues or interests for the sake of the nuclear talks.  They will stand and fall – or fall on their own merit and on their own weight.  So I want to be very clear about that. Second, I’m not going to get ahead of the President.  I suspect he’ll be taking this up with President Putin in a couple of days. 

But John, let me say one more thing on this.  This meeting with President Putin is not happening in a vacuum.  The President will be coming off of the G7, the NATO summit, the meeting with the European Union’s leaders.  And collectively, when we bring the world’s democracies together, it’s an incredibly powerful force militarily, economically, politically, diplomatically.  A major poll just came out that showed that across these countries confidence in American leadership, President Biden’s leadership, in these countries is at 75 percent.  That’s up from 17 percent a year ago.  So we are now in a position as a result of reinvigorated American leadership to work and to bring all of these countries together in common cause and common purpose, including dealing with challenges from Russia or China.

QUESTION:  Final quick question, Mr. Secretary.  Iran has made a lot of progress since the nuclear deal fell apart.  A lot of that is in material.  Other is knowledge.  How do you put the knowledge back in a box that they’ve gained during the period that the —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  That’s right.

QUESTION:  — agreement fell apart?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  John, that’s a great question, and you’re exactly right that since we pulled out of the nuclear deal and then Iran began to ignore the constraints that the deal had imposed on it, it has been galloping forward and it’s enriching more material.  It’s enriching at higher levels, degrees than were allowed under the agreement.  And you’re right, it is gaining knowledge.  And if this goes on a lot longer, if they continue to gallop ahead, then you’re right, they’re going to have knowledge that’s going to be very hard to reverse, which I think puts some urgency in seeing if we can put the nuclear problem back in the box that the agreement had put it in that, unfortunately, Iran is now out of as a result of us pulling out of the agreement.

QUESTION:  All right, Secretary Blinken, we’re out of time.  Thank you so much for being with us.  And Face the Nation will be back in a minute.  Stay with us.

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    The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has completed three of six selected regulatory-related actions for addressing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) outlined in EPA's PFAS Action Plan . (See fig.) For two of the three completed actions, the steps EPA took were also in response to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20 NDAA): After proposing a supplemental significant new use rule in February 2020, EPA met a June 2020 deadline set in the FY20 NDAA when the EPA Administrator signed the final rule. Among other things, under the final rule, articles containing certain PFAS as a surface coating, and carpet containing certain PFAS, can no longer be imported into the U.S. without EPA review. EPA incorporated 172 PFAS into the Toxics Release Inventory in June 2020. The FY20 NDAA directed EPA to take this action, extending EPA's original planned action to explore data for listing PFAS chemicals to the inventory. Finally, in March 2020, EPA completed a third regulatory-related action, not required under the FY20 NDAA, when the agency proposed a preliminary drinking water regulatory determination for two PFAS—an initial step toward regulating these chemicals in drinking water. Status of Six Selected Regulatory-Related Actions in the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Action Plan Planned action Status Propose a supplemental significant new use rule. Complete Explore data for listing PFAS chemicals to the Toxics Release Inventory. Complete Propose a drinking water regulatory determination. Complete Monitor PFAS in drinking water. Ongoing Explore industrial sources of PFAS that may warrant potential regulation. Ongoing Continue the regulatory process for a hazardous substances designation. Ongoing Source: GAO analysis of EPA's 2019 PFAS Action Plan. | GAO-21-37 Three of the six selected regulatory-related actions are ongoing, and EPA's progress on these actions varies. For example: As of August 2020, EPA was developing a proposed rulemaking for a nationwide drinking water monitoring rule that includes PFAS, which EPA officials said the agency intends to finalize by December 2021. EPA planned to continue the regulatory process for designating two PFAS as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, would allow the agency to require responsible parties to conduct or pay for cleanup. On January 14, 2021, EPA issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking for the hazardous substances designation to get public comment and data to inform the agency's ongoing evaluation of the two PFAS. Beginning in the 1940s, scientists developed a class of heat- and stain-resistant chemicals—PFAS—that are used in a wide range of products, including nonstick cookware, waterproof clothing, and some firefighting foams. PFAS can persist in the environment for decades or longer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that most people in the U.S. have been exposed to two of the most widely studied PFAS, likely from consuming contaminated water or food. According to EPA, there is evidence that continued exposure above certain levels to some PFAS may lead to adverse health effects. In February 2019, EPA issued its PFAS Action Plan , which outlined 23 planned actions to better understand PFAS and reduce their risks to the public. GAO was asked to examine the status of regulatory-related actions in EPA's plan. For six regulatory-related actions GAO selected in EPA's PFAS Action Plan , this report examines (1) the number of actions that are complete and the steps EPA took to complete them and (2) the number of actions that are ongoing and EPA's progress toward completing them. GAO first identified those actions in the PFAS Action Plan that may lead to the issuance of federal regulations or could affect compliance with existing regulations. GAO then assessed the status of the actions by reviewing EPA documents and examining EPA's response to related FY20 NDAA requirements. For more information, contact J. Alfredo Gómez at (202) 512-3841 or gomezj@gao.gov.
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    The Department of Justice announced today that Jesus Wilfredo Encarnacion, a/k/a “Jihadistsoldgier,” “Jihadinhear,” “Jihadinheart,” “Lionofthegood,” was sentenced to 15 years in prison for attempting to provide material support to Lashkar e-Tayyiba (LeT), a Pakistan-based designated foreign terrorist organization responsible for multiple high-profile attacks, including the infamous Mumbai attacks in November 2008.  In addition, Encarnacion was sentenced to a lifetime term of supervised release.  Encarnacion pleaded guilty on Jan. 22, 2020, before United States District Judge Ronnie Abrams, who also imposed today’s sentence.
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  • Border Security: CBP’s Response to COVID-19
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found According to data from the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), through February 2021, over 7,000 Office of Field Operations (OFO) and U.S. Border Patrol employees reported being infected with COVID-19, and 24 died due to COVID-19-related illnesses. In addition, over 20,000 OFO and Border Patrol employees were unable to work at some point due to COVID-19-related illnesses or quarantining in the same time period. OFO officials noted that employee absences due to COVID-19 did not generally have a significant impact on port operations, given relatively low travel volumes. In contrast, officials interviewed by GAO at three of four Border Patrol locations said that COVID-19 absences had impacted operations to some extent. COVID-19 Cases within Customs and Border Protection, through February 2021 CBP regularly updated guidance, used workplace flexibilities, and implemented safety precautions against COVID-19. Between January and December 2020, CBP updated guidance on COVID-19 precautions and how managers should address possible exposures. CBP also used a variety of workplace flexibilities, including telework and weather and safety leave to minimize the number of employees in the workplace, when appropriate. Meanwhile, CBP field locations moved some processing functions outdoors, encouraged social distancing, and provided protective equipment to employees and the public. In addition, some field locations took steps to modify infrastructure to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as installing acrylic barriers or improving airflow in facilities. Challenges implementing operational changes included insufficient equipment for telework at three field locations, and shortages of respirators at a quarter of the ports of entry GAO contacted. CBP adjusted operations in response to COVID-19 and executive actions. As travel and trade volumes declined, some ports of entry reallocated personnel to other operations, such as cargo processing. In contrast, starting in May 2020 Border Patrol encounters with noncitizens steadily increased. As a result, Border Patrol requested additional resources. It also shifted its deployment strategy to operate as closely to the border as practical to intercept individuals who could be infected with COVID-19. Accordingly, some Border Patrol sectors modified interior operations, such as limiting resources at immigration checkpoints. CBP also assisted in implementing a Centers for Disease Control order that provided the ability to quickly expel apprehended individuals. Why GAO Did This Study The COVID-19 pandemic impacted nearly all aspects of society, including travel to and from the U.S. In response to COVID-19, the administration issued executive actions with the intention of decreasing the number of individuals entering the U.S. and reducing transmission of the virus. Within CBP, OFO is responsible for implementing these actions at ports of entry through which travelers enter the U.S., and Border Patrol is responsible for patrolling the areas between ports of entry to prevent individuals and goods from entering the U.S. illegally. Based on their role in facilitating legitimate travel and trade and securing the borders, CBP employees risk exposure to COVID-19 in the line of duty. GAO was asked to review how CBP managed its field operations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report describes: (1) available data on the number of CBP employees diagnosed with COVID-19 and unable to work; (2) actions CBP has taken related to protecting its workforce and the public from COVID-19; and (3) the extent to which CBP adjusted operations in response to the pandemic and related travel restrictions. GAO reviewed key guidance documents and analyzed data on travel and trade at ports of entry, Border Patrol enforcement, and COVID-19 exposures among CBP employees. GAO also interviewed officials at CBP headquarters, employee unions' representatives, and 12 CBP field locations, selected for factors such as geographic diversity, traffic levels, and COVID-19 infection rates. For more information, contact Rebecca Gambler at (202) 512-8777 or GamblerR@gao.gov.
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  • Amateur Athletes: The U.S. Center for SafeSport’s Response and Resolution Process for Reporting Abuse
    In U.S GAO News
    The U.S. Center for SafeSport (the Center), an independent nonprofit organization, was established in response to concerns about the consistency of investigations conducted and resolutions reached by amateur sports organizations of allegations of misconduct and abuse. According to Center staff, their response to allegations of misconduct are guided by the SafeSport Code, which establishes acceptable standards of conduct for all individuals who participate in U.S. Olympic and Paralympic events and training, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), and other tools. The SafeSport Code defines the scope of the Center's jurisdiction, establishes the standard of proof for its decisions, identifies types of prohibited conduct, describes possible temporary measures and sanctions, and outlines the resolution process and requirements to report to law enforcement. SOPs outline intake and investigation staff roles and responsibilities and provide a step-by-step guide of processes, and a case management system is used by intake and investigation staff to document their work. The Center seeks to ensure its intake and investigation process is fair by taking steps to ensure anonymity and privacy; providing opportunities for claimants (the persons alleged to have experienced misconduct) and respondents (the individuals accused of misconduct) to participate in investigations; and providing parties with the right to consult with an advisor and to seek arbitration of sanctions or other measures imposed by the Center. The Center refers to allegations of misconduct as cases when it establishes that it has enough information to proceed with intake and investigation. From February 2018 through June 2020, the Center created and resolved 3,909 cases. Most of the Center’s cases were resolved through administrative closure or jurisdictional closure. Administrative closure may occur as a result of insufficient evidence, claimants who elect not to participate in the resolution process, or other factors. Jurisdictional closure occurs when the Center does not have jurisdiction or the Center chooses not to exercise its discretionary jurisdiction, as defined in the SafeSport Code. As of June 30, 2020, approximately 1,300 individuals were listed in the Center’s Centralized Disciplinary Database; this number includes individuals placed on temporary restriction(s) or temporary suspension, as well as individuals suspended or rendered permanently ineligible to participate. On February 14, 2018, the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017 was enacted, which codified the Center’s jurisdiction over the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and its affiliated organizations with regard to safeguarding amateur athletes against abuse in sports. It also required the Center to develop resources and policies to prevent abuse of amateur athletes. The Center investigates and resolves allegations of sexual misconduct by coaches, trainers, managers, peers, and others that may be in violation of the Center’s policies and procedures. In addition, the Center may, at its discretion, investigate and resolve allegations of other policy violations, including non-sexual child abuse and emotional and physical misconduct. The Center plays a key role in ensuring the safety of amateur athletes, many of whom are minors, who participate in Olympic, Paralympic, and Pan-American events and training. GAO was asked to describe the process the Center uses in responding to, investigating, and resolving allegations of misconduct. This report describes (1) how the Center responds to allegations of misconduct in amateur athletics and seeks to ensure its process for investigating and resolving allegations is fair, and (2) what is known about incidents reported to the Center from February 2018 through June 2020. GAO reviewed documents relevant to Center intake and investigation policies and practices and interviewed the Center's leadership, including individuals responsible for the intake and investigation of allegations of misconduct. In addition, GAO requested summary data for the period February 2018 through June 2020—the most recent data available—including information about allegations of misconduct and abuse, and the investigation and resolution of cases. For more information, contact Kathy A. Larin at (202) 512-7215 or larink@gao.gov.
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