Preparatory Committee for Least Developed Countries Conference Concludes Second Session after Week-Long Talks on New 10-Year Sustainable Development Road Map

30 Jul

The intergovernmental Preparatory Committee for the Fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries concluded its second session today, after a week of negotiations on a new 10-year road map for sustainable development of these vulnerable States.

Secretary Antony J. Blinken And Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Dr. Ahmed Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah At a Joint Press Availability

29 Jul

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Kuwait City, Kuwait

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

FOREIGN MINISTER AL-SABAH:  (Via interpreter)  To start, I would like to welcome my friend, Mr. State Secretary Antony Blinken, in his visit, first visit to Kuwait, while I am a minister of – foreign affairs minister.  We were honored today in the morning to meet his highness the amir of the country, Sheikh Jaber (inaudible) Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, and also his highness the prime – the crown prince, Sheikh Mishal Al-Sabah, and also the prime – his highness the prime minister, Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, may God protect them.

We heard during the visit with his highness the amir the instructions to give support to the relations with the U.S., all – all what can be – and care.  And we should remember that this year, we celebrate the 60th anniversary of our diplomatic relations, and also 30th anniversary of liberation of Kuwait.  And the visit of my friend, Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Kuwait, comes quite – few days from the anniversary of the Iraqi invasion to Kuwait, which – where there was a very strong stand by USA in liberating Kuwait and having legitimacy back to Kuwait.  So we thank you, your excellency, my friend, Mr. Secretary.

The bloods of the Kuwaitis and the U.S., the Americans, were together and mixed together in the liberation of Kuwait, and we remember through the coalition of 39 countries around the world to liberate Kuwait, headed and led by USA.  This will remain in the hearts of all Kuwaitis, all in appreciation for that.  And we will remain appreciative for the USA and the administration, the U.S. administration, and his excellency, his highness, the – or the President of USA and also State Secretary Mr. Blinken.

We remember also in this occasion the many relations we have between our both countries in all fields.  We talked about the importance of lending care of strategic discussions and dialogue and what is important for both countries and give extra push to the bilateral relation.  We look forward to the fifth dialogue session between Kuwait and USA.

And we believe that both countries and the whole world are going through the corona pandemic.  Maybe it is important to exchange expertise with respect to fighting this pandemic and all the other issues of development and enhancement of how to distribute the vaccine in both countries and all the world, actually, because both countries believe that we are not immune unless we are all vaccinated.  And we believe there’s another side that comes from corona, which is the aftermath of this pandemic with respect to the food security, and there’s a lot of collaboration in that respect with USA.  We thank USA for this part of the food security in the whole region and in the whole world.

We are also proud on the level of collaboration in education between USA and Kuwait, and there are several students who are studying in the USA, and many of Kuwaitis have benefited throughout the decades, the past decades of the unique education enjoyed in the U.S. by the USA.

And during the pandemic there were some aspects that we had to – we should learn from it and share expertise, and also the collaboration in this field itself, the pandemic.  Also those with respect to the information technology, cyber crime, cybersecurity, because none of the countries are really secure completely unless we join efforts together.  And we thank our friends in the USA for all the efforts they make with Kuwait to ensure cybersecurity in Kuwait.

This is – these are the bilateral issues that we will continue at the end of this year in the strategic discussion, and we also discussed several issues, regional and international.  And thank God we – there are so many, so many similarity in viewpoints regarding these issues on the regional and international level because we both believe as countries that – the elements in the international law and mentioned in the charter of establishing the United Nations itself.

I welcome you, my friend, State Secretary Antony Blinken, to Kuwait.  Welcome, and we wish for you a nice visit and successful one.  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Good afternoon again.

It’s a real pleasure to be back in Kuwait to be able to spend time in person with my friend, the foreign minister.  We’ve had the opportunities to talk and work on issues, but nothing substitutes for being able to be in the same room, the same place, and have very good and detailed conversations.

So, Ahmed, I really want to thank you for your hospitality today and, of course, his highness the amir, the crown prince, the prime minister, the speaker of the parliament for their very, very warm reception and the very good conversations that we’ve had.

I’m here because of the strong ties of friendship and partnership between the United States and Kuwait.  And as the foreign minister has already noted, 60 years ago when Kuwait became an independent nation, our two nations quickly established diplomatic relations.  And 30 years ago, the United States was proud to lead a coalition of nations to help liberate Kuwait from the occupation of Saddam Hussein.  We were at the parliament and saw a video of President George H.W. Bush when he was here after the liberation, being received at the parliament, and it was quite, I must say, moving to see those images again of our president, of Secretary Baker, our Kuwaiti colleagues in that remarkable moment.  And as President Bush put it, by standing with a peaceful Kuwait against an invasion by a violent dictator, we were standing up for our principles, including the principle that America stands by her friends.

In the years since, the partnership between Kuwait and the United States has grown even stronger.  And today, as the foreign minister alluded to, we’re working together on a wide variety of issues.  We’re working together to end the COVID-19 pandemic, to advance regional security, to bridge divides, to address the needs of people across the Middle East and beyond.  And I really want to thank Kuwait for stepping up to provide very generous support to COVAX, the facility that helps provide vaccines around the world.  It’s leading the global effort to procure and equitably distribute safe and effective vaccines with strong support from both of our countries.

Kuwait has demonstrated and Ahmed, you’ve demonstrated personally remarkable statesmanship in healing the Gulf rift earlier this year, bringing a close to a political crisis that’s divided Gulf nations since 2017.  Kuwait’s a critical partner in the effort to end the war in Yemen and to advance the cause of a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians.  As Iraq works to strengthen its relations with its Arab neighbors, Kuwait and the United States are working together to increase its stability, its security, its integration with the region, including through Kuwait’s efforts to connect Iraq to the GCC electricity grid.  And we’re working together to help the Afghan people and support regional stability as coalition forces withdraw from Afghanistan.

This partnership is made possible by our deepening ties.  Kuwait is a major non-NATO ally of ours.  It’s a gracious host to American troops based here, and that allows us to continue our mission of helping to defend our partners in the region.  The bilateral trade relationship continues to grow.  In 2019, it accounted for about $4.5 billion.  We’re determined to raise that number substantially by putting forward a positive vision for how to get business done.

We know that allies and partners in the region have their own complex relationships around the world, including with China, and the question for us is not an either/or choice, but we believe that by promoting a level business playing field and relying on innovation and openness, the United States will remain a strong partner of choice throughout the region.

Earlier today, as I mentioned, I had a chance to tour Kuwait’s National Assembly, an institution vital to democratic governance.  I appreciate the work that our countries do together, both bilaterally and in international institutions, to advance respect for freedom of religion and belief.  Perhaps most significantly, our people-to-people ties are enduring.  Nearly 10,000 Kuwaitis studied in American universities and English-language institutions in the 2019-2020 academic year.  That’s the third-highest number of any country in the region.  It’s even more significant when we remember that Kuwait has one of the smaller populations in the region.  We’re grateful that so many Kuwaiti students have chosen to study in the United States.  We’re working hard to welcome as many of you back as possible, and we hope even more of you will study in the United States because strong bilateral partnerships like ours ultimately are founded on these people-to-people ties.

At a time of immense global challenge, it’s more important than ever to have friends that you can work with to solve problems, to advance shared interests and shared goals.  Kuwait is one of those friends.  The United States is proud of our partnership and I’m grateful for the good work that we’re getting done today and that we’ll get done in the future.

As noted, this is a time of in some ways looking back in celebration at the establishment of diplomatic relations, at the liberation of Kuwait, but much more important even than that is a moment for looking forward, to building on all that we’ve done together in recent years, to grow the partnership, to make it even stronger, to make it even broader, and to work together to tackle the challenges that we face and that the world faces.  Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER AL-SABAH:  Thank you so much.  Samira.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) Thank you, Your Excellency, and welcome to your guest.  Samira from Anhaar – Kuwait Anhaar magazine, a question to both ministers.

It is regarding your excellency – what Blinken said to follow Afghanistan, and The Wall Street Journal had published that Kuwait will receive number of translators coming from Afghanistan and mentioned that it will receive them at an American base called Buehring, I think she said.  Did you discuss this issue?  And what’s the stand of Kuwait and the number of different individuals that Kuwait will receive and host?

The other question is regarding reducing the number of soldiers of – American soldiers – sorry, number of Patriot platforms.  Why did you reduce this in the region?  And you say – or this administration say that they are to enhance security in the region and protect the Gulf countries.  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks very much for the question.  With regard to Afghanistan and the question of special immigrant visas, the United States is committed to helping those who helped us during our time in Afghanistan over the last 20 years.  And indeed, we’ve had very brave Afghans who have stood with us, with our soldiers, with our diplomats, mostly as translators and interpreters, and as a result of that service, benefit from the possibility of securing a visa to come live in the United States.  We’re actively engaged in that process, notably in relocation planning for those brave Afghans and their families.  That is a subject that came up today, as it’s come up in conversations with a number of other allies and partners.

With regard to the Patriots and other issues, I would refer you to the Department of Defense on those questions.

FOREIGN MINISTER AL-SABAH:  Sir.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Mr. Secretary, I would like to follow up on the question on Afghan interpreters.  So there were expectation that you would reach an agreement here with Kuwait, but you’re not announcing it.  At this pace, how are you going to be able to relocate all those people before the U.S. forces leave in one month, if that’s the administration intention, of course?  And can you confirm that the first group will arrive in the U.S. today to be transferred to Fort Lee?

And Mr. Foreign Minister, has the Biden administration asked Kuwait to join the Abraham Accords with Israel, and is that something that you are considering?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you very much.  I’m happy to start.

So as you know, earlier this month, President Biden announced what we call Operation Allies Refuge to support the relocation for Afghan nationals and their families who are eligible for Special Immigrant Visas.  And that process is actively underway.  And indeed, we expect the first beneficiaries of the program to begin arriving very, very soon.

At the State Department, we’ve activated an Afghanistan Coordination Task Force that is working on this.  It’s led by a three-time ambassador, Tracey Jacobson, and has experts from across the relevant departments in government.  And that task force is coordinating our efforts to take SIV applicants out of harm’s way and, if qualified, bring them to the United States once their vetting is complete.  So we’re very actively engaged in that.  We put significant resources into this effort.  We are talking to a number of countries about the possibility of temporarily relocating these applicants as the process is complete.  It takes some time to work through the process.  And as I said, that was a product – one of the issues that came up in our conversations today, as it is with a number of other friends and allies, but we are very much focused on making good on our obligations to those who stood with us in Afghanistan.

FOREIGN MINISTER AL-SABAH:  Thank you so much.  Regarding the Abraham Accords, all of the signatories, as far as Kuwait is concerned, it’s a sovereign issue for all of the signatories on the Abraham Accord.

But as far as Kuwait, it is the whole struggle of the Palestinians, now over 73 years of ordeal.  The most important aspect is not to go into the desperation.  We thank the U.S. administration for its commitment with the peace process, with the reviving of the political process.  We were in dire times end of May during all of the escalation of violence on Gaza.  And we truly do think that the only viable solution is a two-state solution.  And if we lose focus on that, then it might be put into ordeal and/or to jeopardy.

Therefore, continuous focus of the whole international community on reviving the spirit of peace as it was 30 years ago during Madrid or during Oslo is very important as far as Kuwait is concerned, and not to lose this momentum because the aspect of it, the ramification affect is very dire for the Palestinians and for the region.  (Inaudible.)

QUESTION:  My name is Shahad Al-Matrouk from Al Arabiya’s channel.  I would like to talk about the Houthi behavior that is backed by Iran recently.  We saw new attempts to attack Saudi Arabia with ballistic missiles and drones.  Will Washington condemn only without taking any measures to stop these behaviors that target civilians?  Also, the U.S. military presence in the Gulf region, will it shrink in the coming period of time?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I’m sorry.  Could you repeat the second part of the question?

QUESTION:  The U.S. military presence in the region, will it shrink in the coming period of time?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  With regard to Yemen, we are very, very focused on the diplomacy and efforts to bring the war to an end and to bring the resulting human suffering to an end.  As you know, at the very – toward the very beginning of the administration, we appointed a senior special envoy to lead our diplomacy for ending the war in Yemen, Tim Lenderking.  He’s been very actively engaged, as have I and other officials in the administration.  And it is incumbent on the Houthis to engage meaningfully and in good faith in an effort to end the war.  We appreciate the steps that Saudi Arabia has taken to move in that direction, and we’re also committed to the defense of Saudi Arabia, including when it comes to attacks against Saudi territory coming from Yemen, coming from the Houthis.  That’s – that remains vital.

So right now, I think the Houthis have failed to demonstrate a willingness to engage meaningfully in the peace process.  I think that every – virtually every country in the region as well as the United States are trying to move in that direction, and we would like to see the Houthis engage meaningfully in that effort as opposed to launching missiles at Saudi Arabia or continuing an offensive in Yemen itself.

With regard to our force posture, as every administration does upon taking office, we’re engaged in a global review of our force posture.  Again, I’ll leave that to the Pentagon to talk about, but we are very much committed to our presence in the region, in the Middle East, and here in Kuwait.

FOREIGN MINISTER AL-SABAH:  Sir.

QUESTION:  Since you’ve come to the region, Secretary Blinken, I wonder if I could ask about Iran.  The supreme leader said yesterday that Iran is not going to accept what he called Washington’s stubborn demands to revive the nuclear deal, as you won’t remove any of the sanctions imposed by the previous U.S. administration.  With trying to get them back into the nuclear deal, haven’t you failed to give them a good reason to get them back to the negotiating table?

And further, I wanted to ask, why has it taken nearly two weeks for the administration to speak out about protests that have been going on in Iran over – against the government in the last couple of weeks?

And to the foreign minister, I wonder, is Kuwait concerned about the U.S. recent agreement with Iraq to end its combat mission there?  This comes at a time when Iranian-backed militias appear to be in the ascendancy in Iraq.  The country’s politics is looking towards a more nationalist direction.  Does this give you concerns that what happened here 30 years ago is closer to happening again with the situation in Iraq?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So we’ve engaged in multiple rounds of conversations and negotiations in Vienna – indirect, as you know.  The Iranians have refused to talk directly, but with our European partners, with Russia and China, we’ve been engaged in – as I said, in multiple rounds.  I think we have clearly demonstrated our good faith and desire to return to mutual compliance with the nuclear agreement, with the JCPOA.  And the fact of the matter is it is Iran that has decisions to make, fundamental decisions to make about whether it too wants to return to compliance.  And there is no amount of deflection that can change that basic fact.  The ball remains in Iran’s court and we will see if they are prepared to make the decisions necessary to come back into compliance.

We are committed to diplomacy, but this process cannot go on indefinitely.  At some point, the gains achieved by the JCPOA cannot be fully recovered by a return to the JCPOA if Iran continues the activities that it’s undertaken with regard to its nuclear program – activities that, of course, have broken through the constraints imposed by the JCPOA.  So we look to see what Iran is ready to do or not ready to do.  We remain fully prepared to return to Vienna to continue negotiations, but as I said, this process cannot and will not go on indefinitely.

FOREIGN MINISTER AL-SABAH:  Thank you so much.  Regarding the – your second question, the United States has proven time and time again of its commitment to the security of Kuwait and the region, and I think that throughout the six decades, there are lots of times and aspect that really, the United States showed in action its total commitment.

As well, we have an agreement treaty with the United States for the security and stability of Kuwait, and both of us are members under the leadership of United States in combating Daesh.  In Kuwait, we are hosting lots of allied country in combating Daesh, so this is an ongoing, as well, a commitment – an international commitment, a multilateral commitment in combating terrorism as well.

So no, we are not concerned about this matter.  We think that it is based on the sovereign decision of United – the United States, and the time has showed time and time again the fervent stance of United States with the security and stability of Kuwait.

Thank you so much, ladies and gentlemen.  Thank you so much, and see you soon.  Thank you.

United States Bid to Host Expo 2027

29 Jul

Office of the Spokesperson

Today, the U.S. Chargé d’affaires in Paris delivered a letter of candidature from Secretary Blinken to the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) confirming that a proposal from Minnesota USA Expo is the United States’ national bid to host Expo 2027.  The proposed specialized Expo, commonly known as a World’s Fair, will focus on global health and sustainability under the theme “Healthy People, Healthy Planet: Wellness and Well-Being for All,” and will invite the world’s nations to showcase innovative and collaborative solutions to our shared challenges.

The Department of State, in collaboration with the Department of Commerce, will work with the Minnesota organizing committee, U.S. businesses and industry, cultural leaders and organizations, and civil society to develop an Expo that promotes American prosperity, strengthens global alliances, and connects our global community.  The United States looks forward to securing support from member states of the BIE ahead of the expected vote in November 2022 to select the host city for Expo 2027.

For more information on Minnesota USA Expo 2027, visit www.MinnesotaUSAExpo.com and follow @USAExpo2027 on Twitter.  Hosting Expo 2027 in Minnesota will continue our nation’s long tradition of hosting World’s Fairs and would be the first in the United States since 1984.

Secretary Antony J. Blinken with Kuwait Television

29 Jul

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Kuwait City, Kuwait

The Sheraton Hotel

QUESTION:  So Mr. Secretary, if you could please tell us about your impression about your visit in Kuwait?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, it’s wonderful to be back in Kuwait.  It’s I think an auspicious time to be here.  It’s the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Kuwait and, of course, the 30th anniversary of the liberation of Kuwait.  So we’re rightly focused on those very important points in history, but mostly we’re looking forward to building on the very strong partnership that we already have.  And Kuwait is a vital partner to the United States, both on a bilateral basis but also working together for stability in the region, for progress, for peace, bringing countries together.  Kuwait’s played a leading role in ending the Gulf rift and bringing countries together.  We’re grateful that it hosts our own forces here.  And we’re working increasingly in different areas.

But I think what’s also interesting from my conversations here today – and it was a privilege to be able to see the amir, the crown prince, as well as my friend and colleague the Foreign Minster al-Sabah, the prime minister, the leader of the parliament – is we’re also focused on so many issues that affect the wellbeing of our citizens, and working more closely together on health security, on food security, on emerging technologies, and as well as the diplomatic work that we do together.  So we had a long agenda.  I think we had very strong conversations about our cooperation.  And I very much look forward to pursuing those in the months ahead.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Thank you.

Secretary Antony J. Blinken with Saad Al-Enezi of Sky News Arabia

29 Jul

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Kuwait City, Kuwait

The Sheraton Hotel

QUESTION:  I would like to thank Mr. Antony Blinken, U.S. Secretary of State, and thank you for joining us this brief interview.  Hopefully it will shed a light on some major issues.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Pleasure to be with you.  Thank you.

QUESTION:  First, let’s talk about – start with Tunisia.  It’s like, been political development and it’s – things are moving in different directions.  What’s your take on this?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, Tunisia’s been a strong, remarkable example of democracy in recent years, and I think it sends a strong message to see a strong democracy in Tunisia that represents the will and the interests of the people.  So we’ve been concerned by the steps taken to move out of the constitutional order, and that’s a real concern.  I spoke to the president just a few days ago to express those concerns.  We know the devastation that’s occurred in Tunisia through COVID-19, the economy.  We know that the government needs to be responsive to those challenges and to those problems.  But we – we’re urging our friends in Tunisia to move forward in a way that’s consistent with the constitution, that gets back on the democratic path, follows the democratic order, and including unfreezing the parliament and, of course, establishing a government.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Another very important issue for at least people in the Gulf area is the nuclear Iraqi – I mean, Iranian nuclear deal.  You just talked in the press conference about diplomacy will not be forever.  What are other options if these talks fail?  I mean, is the military option on the table?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, I don’t want to get into hypotheticals other than to say that we are determined that Iran not acquire a nuclear weapon.  And that has been and remains resolutely our policy.  We believe that it’s in our interest and Iran’s interest to come back into compliance with the nuclear agreement, the JCPOA.  But that really depends on Iran making the decision to do so.  It’s not yet made that decision.  Meanwhile, it continues to advance its nuclear program in very dangerous ways, and at some point those advances will be such that returning to compliance with the nuclear agreement won’t solve the problem.  So that’s why I say this can’t go on indefinitely.

Meanwhile, of course, we’ve seen protests in Iran that started outside of Tehran; they’ve now come to Tehran.  In the first instance they were really about people’s deep frustration with the failure of government to meet their basic needs, including water, mismanagement of the economy.  And now we’ve seen them move to people expressing their larger aspirations for freedom and for a government that respects them and respects their rights.  And, of course, we stand with the people of Iran in the desire to have their voices heard, and we urge – strongly urge the government not to use violence and repression to silence those voices.

QUESTION:  Do you think if the talks succeed, and Iran will actually agree to not only the nuclear deal but also the broader picture of the missile problem and the other issues of its behavior in the area, do you think this would open the door, and do you envision seeing normal relation with Iran or even – in the foreseeable future, or maybe Iran become an ally in distant future?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, we’re focused right now on determining whether Iran is willing to come back into compliance with the nuclear deal, and doing what the nuclear deal did, which is to put its nuclear program in a box and to remove the danger that Iran would be in a position to acquire a nuclear weapon very, very quickly.

At the same time, we’re determined to address the other challenges posed by Iran to us and to other countries in the region, including its destabilizing actions, its support for proxies and other militia that are engaged in violent action, its support for terrorism.  And that requires Iran’s engagement as well.

So our hope would be that we can return to the nuclear agreement and use that as a foundation for engaging Iran on these other issues where its actions are of real concern to us and to partners in the region.  Beyond that, it’s very hard to imagine the future.  We need to be focused on what we can do in the time ahead.

QUESTION:  When people in the region now, they are – some people or some allies maybe, they’re concerned about what they see.  I mean, they see – some people are interpreting what’s happening as U.S. pulling away, they’re questioning the commitment of the U.S. to their security, especially after withdrawing from Afghanistan in the manner it’s happened, and also the pact with Iraq which is rebranding the – your operation to an advisory position or an advisory phase and then reducing some of the defensive assets here in the Gulf.  People are a bit worried, even some of them might say they’re not, but that the United States is moving now to confront China, maybe at their own security – at the expense it.  What do – how do you answer such concerns?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, I think you have to look at each situation in its own right, which I’ll come to in a second.  But I also think it’s a mistake to equate engagement to the extent of our military presence in any one place.  We remain and we will remain very much present in the region and committed to the defense of our allies and partners.  That’s not going to change.  But my definition of engagement is much broader than the number of forces we may have in any one place.  It’s our economic engagement, our diplomatic engagement, our political engagement, and that is only increasing, including here in the Middle East.  And deepening, strengthening partnerships with countries throughout the region, to include Kuwait where I am today, is very much part of the agenda.

Now, the individual cases, it’s important to look at them, as I say, in their own right.  Afghanistan – we – why did we go to Afghanistan in the first place?  It was because we were attacked on 9/11.  We went there to bring to justice those who attacked us and to try to make sure that that could not happen again from Afghanistan soil.  And we largely succeeded in achieving those objectives.  Osama bin Laden was brought to justice 10 years ago, and al-Qaida as a threat from Afghanistan to us and to others has been vastly diminished.  And we’ll keep an eye on things to make sure it doesn’t reemerge, and if it does, we would take action to deal with that.

And, of course, again, it’s 20 years later, $1 trillion.  Even as we are removing our forces, we’re remaining very much engaged in Afghanistan, supporting Afghanistan economically, development assistance, humanitarian assistance, support for its security forces, and diplomatic engagement to try to bring the parties to the table – the Taliban, the Afghan Government – to negotiate an end to the conflict.  So I think that’s the story on Afghanistan.

When it comes to Iraq, the success of Iraqi security forces is such that we are able to transition the mission that we have in Iraq so that our focus there is on supporting those forces with training and advice to deal with Daesh and any prospect that might reemerge.  Meanwhile, we have a very broad relationship with Iraq economically, diplomatically, politically.  We just had a Strategic Dialogue in Washington with senior Iraqi leadership that is evidence of that partnership.  So again, I think you have to be very careful with equating our engagement in any particular place just by looking at the numbers of American forces there.  I think we’re much more effective when that engagement is broad-based across the board, and on that basis, our engagement has only deepened.

QUESTION:  The last question, Mr. Secretary.  China is coming with a – very strongly in this area with the Silk Road initiative.  Do you have a competing vision from the U.S. to compete now with China for the future in the next decade and other decades?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, a few things are important here.  First, this is not a question of having to choose between China and the United States.  We know that people have relationships, economic relationships with a variety of countries, including China, and that includes investments from China.  But I think what’s very important is this:  We all have to look very carefully at the investments that are being made.  First, if they’re in sensitive areas involving sensitive technologies, that’s something people have to look at very carefully.  Unfortunately, when it comes to China, there’s really no difference between its so-called private companies and the state.  The state can order the companies to do anything at any time.  And we know that when it comes to human rights, when it comes to privacy, when it comes to protecting intellectual property, China has a different view of those issues than we do and others do.  So there’s that.

Second, in terms of investments, and as countries receive them and are in – doing business, they have to look very carefully at what that might involve.  And if it involves, for example, taking on a tremendous amount of debt that you can’t repay, if it involves workers coming in from another country to do the work – in this case, China – as opposed to having local workers do it, if it involves corruption, if it involves a lack of transparency, if it involves building things to bad standards without care for the environment, well, all of those things have to be factored in.  We do, I think, have an alternative vision, and that is to make investments that are, as we would say, a race to the top, not a race to the bottom, with a focus on making sure that countries don’t take on debt that they can’t manage, with a focus on the rights of workers, being attentive to the environment, making sure that we’re building things to high standards.  So, people can decide and make a choice about what makes the most sense for them.

QUESTION:  Well, thank you very much.  I really appreciate it.  Would love to have more time with you, but our time is out.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.

QUESTION:  Appreciate you being with us.  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you very much.

Secretary Antony J. Blinken with Osman Ayfarah of Al Jazeera

29 Jul

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Kuwait City, Kuwait

The Sheraton Hotel

QUESTION: Secretary Blinken, thank you for joining us.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good to be with you.

QUESTION: At the moment, all eyes are on Tunisia. We know you had a conversation with the Tunisian President Kais Saied. So what did you say to him, if I may ask?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Tunisia’s been a remarkable demonstration of democracy, and it’s really, I think, been a strong example not just for the region but for the world. And we have concerns about deviating from that democratic map, taking actions that run counter to the constitution, including freezing the parliament. We very much recognize that Tunisians are suffering terribly with COVID-19 and a very, very challenging economy. They need a government, of course, that’s responsive to their needs, but that has to happen in a way that is consistent with, respectful of the constitution.

And so I had a long conversation with the president and urged him to make sure that Tunisia returns to the democratic path as quickly as possible. We also have concerns with any efforts to repress the voices of the Tunisian people, including the media, which we’ve seen some reports of in recent days. So our strong hope and expectation is that Tunisia will return to that democratic path, act consistent with the constitution, unfreeze the parliament, have a government in place to do the work of the people, to be responsive to their needs.

QUESTION: What was the president’s response to you?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I don’t want to speak for him. That – I’ll let him speak for himself. But he gave a lengthy explanation of both the actions he was – he had taken and his intentions going forward. And the intentions he expressed to me were to return Tunisia to that democratic path and to act in a way that was consistent with the constitution. But of course we have to look at the actions that the president takes, that Tunisia takes.

QUESTION: Closing down Al Jazeera’s bureau immediately after the president’s decisions was very worrying, and we had solidarity with all the journalists, including the National Union of Tunisian Journalists. As a former journalist yourself and Secretary of State of United States, what are your comments?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: My comment is that we stand resolutely for freedom of the press and for the ability of journalists to do their jobs, including in Tunisia. And we look to the Government of Tunisia to uphold and respect the rights of journalists, and that’s one of the things that we expect of them.

QUESTION: How vital is the security of the Gulf countries and the partnership with the Gulf countries to the interests of the United States?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, we have a strong partnership with countries in the Gulf. I’m here in Kuwait to reaffirm that partnership. It happens to be the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Kuwait, and the 30th anniversary of the liberation of Kuwait after the invasion by Saddam Hussein. But as we’re looking at these partnerships we’re not only working to sustain them; we’re working to build on them and to build on them in new ways, not only dealing with many of the diplomatic challenges and security challenges that exist in the region, including in Yemen, including in different ways in Lebanon, in Syria, but also to work together on a whole variety of issues that will have an impact on the lives of citizens throughout the region and in the United States. Health security, food security, collaboration on science and technology, dealing with some of the emerging technologies that are shaping people’s lives – that’s also now part of the agenda with our partners in the Gulf.

But we remain very much engaged, very much present, working in partnership both with individual countries as well as with the, for example, the Gulf Cooperation Council. And I think this visit to Kuwait was a reaffirmation of that.

QUESTION: President Biden did say he was interested and would work to end the war in Yemen. Why hasn’t that happened? What are the obstacles?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I wish it was like flipping a light switch, but it’s not. But from very early in the administration the President made clear that commitment. We appointed, very early on as well, a senior special envoy to lead our diplomacy, Tim Lenderking, who has been very actively engaged in trying to bring the war to an end with support and engagement from me, from the President himself.

We very much appreciate the plan that Saudi Arabia has put forward to move in that direction. Unfortunately, the reality is that the Houthis have not engaged in a meaningful way, and they need to demonstrate that they’re prepared to end the war, to enter into negotiations, to stop their offensive operations within Yemen, as well as their attacks on Saudi Arabia itself. And we’re resolutely in support of Saudi Arabia, in terms of defending its territory from these attacks.

This is about ending a war and it’s about ending the incredible suffering of the Yemeni people. Yemen, as you know, is perhaps the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. And I hope that the Houthis will demonstrate that they actually care about the people of Yemen, not simply in trying to gobble up more territory. So we’re looking to them to come to the negotiating table, to engage in a meaningful way, and to bring this war to an end.

QUESTION: You decided to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan, and this coincides with the Taliban gaining ground substantially. Is the United States prepared to accept a Taliban government in Afghanistan or a Taliban-dominated government in Afghanistan?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, with regard to Afghanistan, first, it’s important to remember why we went to Afghanistan in the first place. We were attacked on 9/11. We were determined to bring to justice those who attacked us and to make sure, to the best of the ability, that that couldn’t happen again. And we’ve largely succeeded in accomplishing those objectives. Osama bin Laden was brought to justice 10 years ago, and al-Qaida, in terms of its abilities to attack us or anyone else from Afghanistan, has been vastly diminished. And we will keep a very close eye on it to make sure that it doesn’t reemerge, and if it does we will do what’s necessary to prevent it from attacking us or from attacking anyone else.

We were there for 20 years, a trillion dollars. More than 4,500 Americans lost their lives. And it is time for Afghanistan to shape its own future. Having said that, even as we’re withdrawing our military forces, we remain very much engaged in Afghanistan with a strong embassy, with support for Afghanistan’s economy, humanitarian support, development support, support for security forces, as well as very active diplomatic engagement to try to bring an end to the conflict at the negotiating table with the Taliban and with the Afghan Government. There is no military solution to the conflict.

Now, if an Afghanistan emerges that does not respect the basic rights of its people, that abuses the rights of women and girls, that does not respect the basic gains of the last 20 years, that Afghanistan will be a pariah in the international community.

QUESTION: Final question is about Iran. What are you offering Iran? When you say the ball is in Iran’s court, what do you mean by that? I know you’re – we’re running out of time, so you’re going to have to be brief.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: So very quickly, we’ve engaged in multiple rounds of negotiations, indirect with Iran in Vienna, along with the Europeans, Russia, and China, to see if we can both come back into compliance with the nuclear agreement. And we have made very good faith efforts to do that. We’ve made clear everything that we’re prepared to do. Unfortunately, Iran has not yet made the basic decision about whether it is willing to do what’s necessary to come back into compliance with that agreement. So that’s what I mean when I say the ball is in Iran’s court. They’ve not yet made that decision.

We hope that they do make the decision. We are prepared to go back to Vienna at any time to focus on diplomacy and to return to compliance with the agreement. But there – this is not – this can’t be an indefinite process. At some point, if Iran continues to make the advances it’s made on its nuclear program, as it’s lifted the constraints imposed by the nuclear agreement, it will get to a point where we can’t deal with that simply by coming back into compliance with the nuclear agreement.

Meanwhile, I might add, we’re seeing significant protests in Iran that began in areas distant from Tehran, but now we’re seeing in Tehran, because people in the first instance are demanding that the government provide for its basic needs, including water, and we’ve seen tremendous mismanagement that has not addressed the needs of the Iranian people. And we’re also seeing them look to their broader aspirations for freedom, and we stand very much with the people who are trying to make their voices heard and call on the Iranian Government to respect the right to peaceful protest and not to repress it.

QUESTION: Secretary Antony Blinken, thank you very much for talking to Al Jazeera.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.

QUESTION: (In Arabic.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Good to be with you.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.