Blinken Takes Center Stage at Solo Press Event

Department of State

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, good afternoon, everyone. Let me begin by thanking our extraordinary hosts here in Czechia, starting with President Pavel, my friend, Foreign Minister Lipavsky - I thank them for hosting this meeting of NATO's foreign ministers in advance of the NATO summit, but more important to thank them for the remarkable Ally and partner that Czechia is, demonstrating over these 25 years of its membership in the Alliance how much it contributes to our common defense, to our common purpose, and to sustaining our common values.

I also want to thank Secretary General Stoltenberg. I've said this many times before; it bears repeating: His vision, his tenacity, his leadership of this Alliance during a highly consequential decade has been nothing short of remarkable, and he's got more leadership to do as we get to the summit in Washington.

It's not an overstatement to say that this is a critical moment for transatlantic security. We've seen in recent weeks Putin ramping up an offensive against Ukraine in Kharkiv in the northeast; Ukrainians continuing to show extraordinary courage in resisting the Russian aggression. The Kremlin's also been intensifying its hybrid attacks against frontline states - NATO members - setting fire and sabotaging supply warehouses, disregarding sea borders and demarcations in the Baltics, mounting more and more cyber attacks, continuing to spread disinformation. I can tell you that in the meeting of foreign ministers today virtually every Ally was seized with this intensification of Russia's hybrid attacks. We know what they're up to, and we will respond both individually and collectively as necessary.

More broadly, the stakes couldn't be higher in this moment. We know that if Russia's aggression is allowed to proceed in Ukraine with impunity, it will not stop with Ukraine. And other would-be aggressors in other parts of the world will take note and consider pursuing their own aggressions. By continuing to strengthen Ukraine, by continuing to show our determination to make sure that it can effectively defend itself, we're also strengthening the security of the United States, of Europe, of free countries all around the world.

I was in Kyiv a couple of weeks ago, and one of my messages then was that Ukraine is not alone. As the Ukrainian people continue to fight for their freedom, for their independence, for their prosperity, for their democratic future - a future where they decide for themselves the trajectory of their country - they're not alone. The United States is with them. Ally after Ally in NATO and many countries beyond are with them as well. And I heard that reinforced loudly and clearly today among the NATO Allies.

Since Congress passed the President's supplemental budget request of $60 billion last month with overwhelming bipartisan support in our country, we've sent assistance surging to the front: tens of thousands of artillery rounds, thousands of anti-tank mines, air defense capabilities already making a difference. Partners are speeding up their own deliveries to Ukraine, doing more than their share. We saw yesterday - and some of you were with us - how Czechia is sourcing artillery shells around the world and transferring tanks as well to Ukraine. The Netherlands and Germany are contributing additional Patriot air defense systems. Sweden is sending $1.3 billion for radar surveillance aircraft, artillery shells, armored vehicles - and the list continues.

Thanks to the extraordinary bravery of the Ukrainians and thanks to this enduring, strong support from partners, the front in the east and northeast is stabilizing. And of course, Ukraine has made significant gains in the Black Sea, pushing back the Russian fleet, allowing Ukraine to continue to grow its economy by exporting - in fact, exporting through the Black Sea as much, even more than it was before the Russian aggression in February of '22.

So at this pivotal time, the work of the Alliance and the NATO summit itself that we'll host in Washington is, I think, more important than ever. We look forward to welcoming our NATO Allies to Washington. And, of course, it's the 75th anniversary of the most successful Alliance in history. So we will celebrate that fact. But even more important, we will be focusing on the steps we're taking to ensure that the Alliance is fit for purpose for the next 75 years to meet the challenges of today and challenges we anticipate tomorrow.

Today, we spent very productive time working to finalize some of the commitments and some of the outcomes for the summit. And I can say that as we stand here and as we'll see in Washington this Alliance is bigger than it's ever been with the addition of two new members, it's stronger, it's more resilient and more united.

At the summit, we'll be taking concrete steps to bring Ukraine closer to NATO and ensure that there's a bridge to membership, a bridge that's strong and well-lit. NATO will help build Ukraine's future force, one that can effectively deter aggression and defend against it if necessary. We'll advance Ukraine's integration with NATO. Thirty-two countries are also negotiating individual bilateral security agreements with Ukraine; 13 have already been concluded. I expect many more will be concluded by the time of the summit. We'll bring them all together to show how powerful that commitment is.

At the same time, we're seeing Allies stand up to increase burden sharing. Two-thirds of Allies are now on track to meet the 2 percent commitment, and we'll welcome more. Back in 2020, 11 NATO Allies were at 2 percent of GDP contributed to defense. By the time of the summit, we expect that number will be over 20.

We're also working in the Alliance to strengthen the Alliance's collective deterrence and defense. We're ramping up production; we're strengthening our defense industrial bases. We'll have new regional plans that will spell out how and what Allies need to do and will do to protect every inch of NATO territory. And we're deepening cooperation between NATO and critical partners - the European Union, partners in the Indo-Pacific.

And here, just as Allies today were seized with the hybrid threat that has grown from Russia, they're also seized with China's support for Russia's defense industrial base. And as I've had occasion to discuss before, including in China, what we've seen from China is not the provision of weapons to Russia, but the provision of critical inputs that have allowed Russia to accelerate its own production of tanks, of missiles, of shells. Seventy percent of the machine tools that Russia is currently importing are coming from China. Ninety percent of the microelectronics that China is importing are coming from China.[1] And I heard Ally after Ally today raise their deep concern about this, and it only made even more clear to me what I shared with Chinese counterparts in Beijing: China cannot expect on the one hand to improve relations with countries of Europe while on the other hand fueling the biggest threat to European security since the end of the Cold War.

None of us are under any illusions about the challenges we face today and we'll continue to face in the days and months ahead. But 25 years ago, as Czechia joined NATO ahead of the Alliance's 50th anniversary, a daughter of Prague, my friend, mentor, predecessor, Madeleine Albright, reminded us that, and I quote, "When we stand together, no force on Earth is more powerful than our solidarity on behalf of freedom." That conviction was reinforced for me today by what I heard from all of our Allies, and I can tell you it will be further reinforced when we come together in Washington. It's been true for the last 75 years; I want to track to make sure that it's true for the next 75.

MR MILLER: For the first question, we'll go to Humeyra Pamuk with Reuters.

QUESTION: Hello. Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary. I have two questions - one on Ukraine, one on Gaza. So the Biden administration has allowed Ukraine to strike targets inside Russia to defend Kharkiv. Do you leave the door open for this decision to be expanded to other cities and targets that are deeper inside Russia? And since it took the Biden administration a while to make this decision, I'm wondering: Do you think you were too cautious? Or has your intelligence assessment on the possibility of Putin using tactical nuclear weapons has shifted?

And on Gaza, the UN said humanitarian aid going into Gaza has dropped by two thirds since Israel began its Rafah offensive. Your colleague, USAID Administrator Samantha Power, who's an export in - expert on genocide, yesterday said the humanitarian conditions in Gaza were now worse than ever. On April the 4th, President Biden conditioned U.S. military aid to Israel on improvement of the aid situation, among other things. So I'm wondering, why isn't the current dire picture in Gaza triggering a bigger policy shift? Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Great. Thanks, Humeyra. So with regard to the use of U.S. arms by Ukraine and Russia, I said this the other day: The hallmark of our engagement, our support for Ukraine over these more than two years, has been to adapt and adjust as necessary to meet what's actually going on on the battlefield, to make sure that Ukraine has what it needs when it needs it, to do that deliberately and effectively. And that's exactly what we're doing in response to what we've now seen in and around the Kharkiv region.

Over the past few weeks Ukraine came to us and asked for the authorization to use weapons that we're providing to defend against this aggression, including against Russian forces that are massing on the Russian side of the border, and then attacking into Ukraine. And that went right to the President, and as you heard, he's approved the use of our weapons for that purpose. Going forward, we'll continue to do what we've been doing, which is, as necessary, adapt and adjust. And that, as I said, has been a hallmark of our engagement; it will continue to be.

As I've also said many, many times, we want to make sure that we're proceeding deliberately as well as effectively. So I think time and again we've adapted, we've adjusted, we've provided Ukraine with the systems, the weapons it's needed. But again, as I've shared with you many times before, for example, when it comes to weapons systems, we also want to make sure that they have the necessary training to use the weapons and they have the necessary capacity to maintain them. So you have to look at this in a comprehensive way, and I think if you look back as well as look at what we're doing now, it reflects a very deliberate determination to make sure that we're getting Ukraine what they need when they need it.

With regard to Gaza and the humanitarian situation, the humanitarian situation remains dire for people in Gaza. We've seen changes, some positive changes, but the net effect is not there. The positive changes are that, of course, crossings in the north have been opened in recent weeks, including Zikim. We have a route from Jordan that is getting trucks in. If you look at the number of trucks that are actually getting to Gaza and going in, it's up significantly, but distribution within Gaza is not working effectively. And part of the reason for that are the combat operations in the south. In addition, Rafah gate continues to be closed. President Biden secured an agreement with Egypt and with Israel to make sure that goods could go through Kerem Shalom, including goods coming from Egypt, but Rafah remains closed. And that's a real problem.

So the focus that we have, continue to have, and are working on intensely every day is, again, making sure that we're not just measuring inputs - we're measuring impact. And yes, the impact remains insufficient in terms of addressing the acute needs of children, women, and men in Gaza. But it's a moving story every day as we're working intensely to make sure that the different access points are working and then distribution within Gaza is working more effectively. And that's what we're focused on.

QUESTION: But sir, since President Biden conditioned this on it, then why wouldn't you use that leverage? United States provides almost 70 percent of Israel's weapons. That gives it a big leverage, and President Biden specifically conditioned it on this and other things. Why wouldn't you use that policy?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: The - the issue is the conditions are such that the effective distribution of aid is being impeded. And that's what we're working on, trying to make sure that the conditions are there, and there are ways of doing this much more effectively. We're trying to get the results; that's what I'm focused on.

MR MILLER: For the next question, Henry Foy with the Financial Times.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. We know that Ukraine hopes and, in some regards, expects an invitation to join NATO this - at the summit. We also know that your administration and other countries are opposed to that this summer. As such, what tangible, real things can you offer, both you as the U.S. and NATO, Ukraine to ease that disappointment and avoid the sense of them feeling let down again and the response that we saw from Kyiv in Vilnius to that? Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Well, as the Allies agreed and made clear at Vilnius, the last summit, Ukraine will become a member of NATO. And our purpose now is to put in place the bridge to bring Ukraine closer to and then ultimately into NATO. And as I've said, it's a bridge that I think, as you'll see emerge at the summit, it's both very strong and very well-lit. There will be a robust package of support for Ukraine at the summit, a package that strengthens NATO's cooperation and support for Ukraine; that advances Ukraine's integration into NATO; tangible steps that will increase NATO's role in helping Ukraine build a future force, one that can deter and defend against aggression.

At the same time, you're going to see, I think, the completion of these bilateral security agreements, 32 countries that are engaged in doing that. I expect all of that to come together at the summit as well, and that will help ensure that Ukraine is properly resourced to continue to defend itself. But this is a process, and we're proceeding very methodically and proceeding in a way that is delivering practical benefits to Ukraine, including advancing its membership to NATO in very clear and practical ways.

MR MILLER: John Hudson with The Washington Post.

QUESTION: Thanks. Mr. Secretary, you don't do domestic politics, but you do —

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good, thank you.

QUESTION: (Laughter.) But you do represent the United States on the world stage. What are you hearing from foreign counterparts about the guilty verdict in the Trump trial?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: I really have nothing to share on that. We have diplomatic conversations that will remain just that, diplomatic conversations in private.

QUESTION: And former President Trump's trial was defined by his efforts to castigate and delegitimize a court of law. Does that give you any pause about how the Biden administration has responded to another court of law, the International Criminal Court, as well as the International Court of Justice, with regards to Gaza?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: I'm not going to comment on the first part of your question because, as I've long said, I don't do politics - I do policy. With regard to policy and the ICC, look, we've been very clear about this. The decision that the prosecutor made was, in our judgment, profoundly wrongheaded. And in creating an equation between Hamas and Israel - Hamas's leaders and Israel's democratically elected leaders - as we said, and as I've said, it's quite frankly shameful. The reality is that the court was created for a very good reason: to be a court of last resort, one that would swing into action where a country either couldn't or wouldn't effectively police itself. And so the principle of what's called complementarity is at the heart of the court's creation and what it does.

And in Israel, you have a vibrant, independent, and very active judicial system. And in the case of Gaza as well, there are many incidents that are under investigation, including some under criminal investigation. There's a case right now before the Israeli supreme court about the alleged denial of humanitarian assistance for Gazans. And so Israel and its system - its democratic system with independent courts and judges as well as a military justice system that can effectively investigate any allegations of abuse - that should be allowed to run its course. And given that - never mind the fact that we don't accept the jurisdiction of the court over Israel, but leaving that aside, Israeli justice should be allowed to run its course.

Finally, I think it's very deeply unfortunate that Israel was prepared to cooperate with the investigation even while rejecting the jurisdiction of the court, and yet the prosecutor chose not to pursue that cooperation.

MR MILLER: And for —

QUESTION: And just lastly, the Kremlin has put out a statement saying that the trial shows the White House is eliminating Biden's political rivals. They're trying to use this as a way to besmirch the American legal system. How do you respond to that?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: I would say that's a classic case of projection.

MR MILLER: And for the last question, Alexandra von Nahmen with Deutsche Welle.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Secretary, you've mentioned China and how they are propping up the Russian war economy. And Jens Stoltenberg said today as well that without the deliveries from China, Russia would not have been able to conduct the war against Ukraine the way they do. So is there anything you can do about it? And if yes, what are you planning to do about that? Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yes. Again, this is something that Ally after Ally was seized with today. I heard it from virtually everyone in the room. We've already taken action against Chinese entities that have been involved in sanctions evasion, involved in supporting Russia's defense industrial base, including sanctioning more than, I think, now - more than a hundred Chinese entities of one kind or another. And as I've made clear, as necessary, we will continue to do that. From what I heard today, Europeans are also very seized with this, and I would expect to see actions taken by Europeans, by Europe.

And again, I come back to this proposition that's so clear. Russia getting this support from China is, as the secretary general said, a huge difference-maker right now on the battlefield. And for China to purport to have better relations with countries in Europe while fueling this -what I believe is the biggest threat and what Europeans believe is the biggest threat to their security since the end of the Cold War - does not add up. And I think that will continue to have consequences going forward. Thank you.

MR MILLER: Thank you all.

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