Secretary Blinken With Romain Chanson of Radio France Internationale

(As translated.)

QUESTION: Antony Blinken, hello.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Hello

QUESTION: Your visit to South Africa is about to end, you will next be expected in the Democratic Republic of Congo and then in Rwanda. You have been made aware of the report of the United Nations which documents the participation of Rwandan soldiers in attacks against Congolese soldiers, in the Congo, in support of the M23 rebels in the province of North Kivu. Rwanda has rejected the conclusions of this report. Do you, Antony Blinken, confirm the conclusions of this United Nations report?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: I will, above all, be speaking both with the DRC, their leadership, and Rwanda also, to try to help those who want to bring an end to the conflict, to the violence, who want to improve the lives of all those who live in Congo, eastern Congo, and, above all, to support African initiatives and efforts, including efforts, including the efforts of the now-outgoing President Kenyatta of Kenya, as part of a process in Nairobi, to try, precisely, to find a peaceful future in eastern Congo. I will most likely have more to say after my talks with both presidents, but, above all, for us it’s about how to be useful to avoid not only the continuation of this violence, but also its complete increase.

QUESTION: So, on this same radio station, RFI, the Congolese Foreign Affairs Minister Christophe Lutundula declared that the United States have a role to play, precisely, in the resolution of this conflict. But he is also calling for sanctions by the international community. Are you ready, Antony Blinken, for sanctions or, at any rate, to call on the international community for sanctions? And if not, what is the precise role that the United States can play?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: In an initial phase, it’s above all the role of our diplomacy to try to support, precisely, the efforts that are already underway, including by SADC, including by the Nairobi Initiative, and to try and see how we can support these efforts, to help them and find a diplomatic solution to avoid the continuation of the violence. As to what happens next, that remains to be seen, but I want to emphasize above all the role of our diplomacy to try, along with the African partners, to try to bring an end to the conflict and in a sustainable manner, because this is a crisis which is repeating itself and I think we need to find a solution which is really durable.

QUESTION: So, during this press conference with the South African minister of international relations, the issue of the lack of consistency of the United States was brought up, capable both of condemning and asking for sanctions during some conflicts and during others, of remaining silent. Is that the case? Specifically, does the case of Congo and Rwanda illustrate the double standard of the United States?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: I think that you need to look at each challenge in its specific details. We are trying to use, according to the challenge, the tools that we deem the most appropriate, the most effective. Things are never the same in one case or another, but indeed, one should still try to remain faithful to one’s principles, and to remain faithful to the goals that we have. It’s about trying to reach peace where there is a conflict, avoiding conflict where there is peace.

QUESTION: Antony Blinken, you will be going to Rwanda and to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Isn’t resolving the conflict between the two countries just simply a matter, precisely, of asking President Paul Kagame directly to stop supporting the M23?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: At any rate, I think that there has to be a cessation of any type of support to the armed groups, whichever they may be. That’s not a way of advancing peace and security and stability, quite the contrary. And so, at any rate, we will be talking about it with the president.

QUESTION: In Rwanda, there is a U.S. resident who is being detained. He was sentenced to 25 years in jail. This is Paul Rusesabagina. He is known for having been the inspiration for the movie “Hotel Rwanda” but also for being an opponent of President Paul Kagame. Will you be asking for his release?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yes. In any case, alas, in quite a large number of countries around the world, there are U.S. citizens and U.S. residents who are unjustly detained. To me, this is a priority, wherever it may be, to try to work for their return back home in the United States.

QUESTION: Your African trip is taking place after that of the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Does the United States fear a loss of its influence on African continent?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: I am not here because there is competition with anyone else. This is not a trip, not just a trip or an American engagement in Africa because of another country. But, on the contrary, because the future of the world will be defined in a very important way in Africa. Between now and 2050, one citizen of this planet out of four will be African, between now and 2025, 50 percent of the African population will be 25 or under. So, it’s the future, quite concretely which is being decided in Africa. And so, what we are doing here, we are establishing partnerships, we are trying to work together on the challenges that have a real impact on the lives of our fellow citizens, be it the challenge of COVID, be it climate, be it the impact of new technologies on the lives of our citizens. And so, for us, it’s not at all a question of imposing a choice, but rather of offering a choice to countries in Africa. And we have a very positive agenda for this future. I had an opportunity here in South Africa, to speak a bit more about our strategy for Africa and I will talk about it more during my subsequent trips in the future.

QUESTION: This is a trip during which the war in Ukraine has been very much discussed. You are in a country which precisely refuses to talk about an invasion. Have you had this frank discussion with Naledi Pandor, the South African minister of international relations? Have you tried to get the lines to move?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: We talk about it often. This is not the first time, but I think that we are together on the most important principles. What is happening in Ukraine is not only an aggression against the Ukrainian people, it’s an aggression against the principles which are at the basis of the international system, which are the basis of the Charter of the United Nations, which is very important for South Africa as well as countries throughout Africa. The idea that a country does not have the right to change the borders of another country through the use of force, the idea that a country does not have the right to seize the territory of another country, that is something that resonates in Africa, given the history of Africa.

This imperialistic aggression by Vladimir Putin in Ukraine, this is something that has connections with the histories of many countries in Africa. Moreover, there are consequences in Africa and throughout the world, especially around food, where there already was a worldwide crisis, because of climate, and after COVID, and now with the conflict. Given the fact the Russian aggression in Ukraine has exacerbated the food crisis, it is being felt here in Africa. In my view, it’s up to us to show precisely all that we are doing to confront the crisis along with the African countries, namely very large amounts of humanitarian aid since the Russian aggression, in the amount of $6 billion almost since February, but above all, an investment in the agricultural future of Africa, to ensure self-sufficiency of production so that, if in the future Africa has to deal with another crisis, it will overcome it more easily.

QUESTION: Antony Blinken, the issue has come up of a bill that was voted in the House of Representatives in the United States, which will compel or would compel, maybe I am mistaken, your department to present a strategy to, I quote, “counter the [malicious] … activities [and influence] of [Russia] in Africa.” This bill was strongly criticized by Naledi Pandor, who said it was offensive and insulting. What would this law look like if it were really to be adopted? How would it be enforced?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: I don’t want to enter into a hypothetical discussion about a bill that may or not be updated. But, as far as we are concerned, as I just said, our engagement in Africa isn’t because another country is engaging here; it’s because it’s in our deep interest to have a partnership with Africa for the future, because Africa represents the future. And, for us, there is no challenge that has an impact on the lives of our citizens, be it COVID, be it climate, be it new technologies, which does not require cooperation between countries. We cannot deal with these challenges just by ourselves. There is a greater need than ever to come up with means and models of cooperation. That is true throughout the world, that is true in Africa. So, for us, it’s not a question about competition with another country in Africa, it’s a question about a common future to be built, which will have benefits for the American people and I think for African people as well.

QUESTION: It had been seven years since relations with South Africa had not been renewed in such a way, that is what the minister of international relations said. Did the African policy of the previous administration, did the insulting statements by Donald Trump, really cause harm to you, to your administration, in your attempts to reforge ties on the African continent?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: I am focused on the present, on the future. The past is of no importance. What is important is what we are doing today, what we will be doing together tomorrow. Today, in South Africa, we had the restart of the Strategic Dialogue, very important, because focused on the subjects that will have a real impact on the lives of the South Africans and Americans as well. Questions around health care, climate, investments in infrastructure, overall investments. So, for us, it’s today, it’s tomorrow; yesterday is past.

QUESTION: One last word, Antony Blinken. The Kenyan people will be voting to elect a new president. Is this an election that the United States is following particularly?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: We are following it closely, like everyone throughout Africa and throughout the world. Up until now, I think that things are looking quite positive. We will have a free election, with a large turnout. That’s what the world is expecting, that is what Africa is expecting from this election. We will see, and we will watch things closely.

QUESTION: Antony Blinken, thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you, it was a pleasure speaking with you.

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