Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Rosemary Barton of Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

28 Feb

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Washington, D.C.

QUESTION:  Secretary Blinken, nice of you to make the time.  Appreciate it.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  It’s good to be with you.

QUESTION:  Obviously we’re doing this in strange circumstances.  It must be hard to be a diplomat in these times right now.  I’m going to start on that very issue – on the pandemic – because I know it’s top of mind for the administration and certainly the Canadian Government.  Has Canada asked your administration to scrap the executive order aimed at keeping U.S.-produced vaccines inside the United States?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, what I think we’re all working on is making sure that we can get – produce as many vaccines as possible and ultimately get them out to everyone who needs them wherever they are, because at the end of the day, none of us are going to be fully safe until everyone in every part of the world is vaccinated.  You know that as long as the virus is alive somewhere, it’s probably going to be mutating, and if it’s mutating, it can come back to bite us.  The United States, as you know, has just rejoined – or joined COVAX, the international vaccine alliance, and Govi that – Gavi, excuse me – that goes with it.  We have a commitment of $4 billion into that effort, and I think what you’re going to see in the weeks ahead is greater and greater production, and thus greater and greater access of vaccines around the world, including in Canada.

QUESTION:  You are vaccinating your citizens at a much faster rate than Canada, in part because you have the pharmaceutical giants producing the vaccine within the country.  Is there – in what scenario would your closest neighbor and ally start to be able to tap into that production?  Is it once everyone has been vaccinated in the U.S.?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, we’re working on a framework right now for how we can maximize the availability of vaccines.  Of course, we’re focused on getting every American vaccinated, and that’s job one, but we’re also looking at the same time in how we can help get vaccines around the world, because again, this goes to both the right thing to do but the necessary thing to do for our own well-being.  And I think the commitment of $4 billion to COVAX is a very clear sign of our commitment to that effort.

QUESTION:  We are coming up on the one-year anniversary of the border between Canada and the U.S. being shut down, such an extraordinary move.  I know in the conversations with the prime minister and the President this week, that was part of the roadmap, looking at the science that would allow us to open the border.  What has to be in place, in your mind, before we can consider doing that?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, look, let’s start with the fact that I think we’ve managed this remarkably well.  We’ve kept the border going in the sense that we’ve had essential travel that has gone forward.  We’ve made sure that the supply chains and trade could keep going despite the restrictions.  And, of course, we’ve both been focused on public health and public safety.  So we’re going to follow the science, we’re going to follow the facts, and make sure that together as we all bounce back from COVID, we can get this going as quickly and as effectively and as deeply as possible.

We have a 5,000-mile border, and it’s one of the most remarkable things in the world because it’s a – not just a peaceful border, it is a living border that brings our two countries together, our people together every single day.  I’m glad that we found ways to keep things going even during COVID, and now as we both emerge from it, I’m confident we’ll get to that place that we both want.

QUESTION:  But do you have the points that you want to see in order to get to that place?  I mean, does Canada have to be fully vaccinated?  Are you looking at more rapid testing?  What kinds of things are you considering in order to reach that?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We have our experts looking at that.  Of course, the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control, are in the lead and we’re going to follow their guidance.

QUESTION:  So do you anticipate we are still looking at months yet of the border being closed?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I don’t want to put a time stamp on it.  I think we have to follow the progress that we’re all making in combating the disease and getting people vaccinated, and again, following the science.  And you know it is changing mostly for the good every single day.  I think we’ve made very rapid progress in the last few weeks.  At the same time, we have variants that are popping up.  We have to be on guard against those and we all have to remain disciplined, because the closer we get to actually getting over the hump and dealing effectively with COVID-19, it’s easy to let down your guard.  People are tired, they’re frustrated, and I understand that profoundly.  But if we can just keep our guard up and keep our vigilance a little while longer, we’re going to get to the other side.

QUESTION:  A couple questions about trade, if I can.  I know that you have a buy America provision in the executive order.  I know that you’ve reassured Canada that it will be consulted as you move forward with the – developing the policy around that.  Is your administration willing to consider an exemption for Canada writ large or some of the industries within Canada?  What is the approach on that?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, first, the buy America provisions have been on the books for a long time, and this goes to government procurement.  This goes to how governments spend taxpayers’ money and the focus there.

QUESTION:  Right.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  But we have – we are each other’s largest trading partners.  We have a remarkably vibrant commercial and trade relationship.  I think the potential going forward, particularly as we’re trying to build more resilient supply chains, something that’s really been I think impressed upon both countries with regard to – after COVID-19 and also some of the challenges posed by China, there is huge opportunity there.

And the other, I think, really big opportunity is, precisely as we rebound from COVID-19, we both have a strong incentive to work together on a whole series of projects as well as to make sure that that trading relationship, already arguably the strongest in the world, grows even stronger.

QUESTION:  So you could understand our apprehension and wariness, though, given the past four years that Canada has experienced.  So should we – so Canada should just take your word that this will all be okay, and we don’t need anything in writing or a clear exemption?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, look, we have the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement that was reached building upon original agreements from a couple of decades ago.  But more to the point –

QUESTION:  Yes.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  — we already have this incredibly vibrant relationship that I am convinced, particularly given some of the new imperatives on supply chains and bouncing back and building back better from COVID-19 where we are such natural partners, I am very confident we’re going to see real growth and expansion in that relationship.

QUESTION:  Okay.  I’m going to move on to China, which, as you know, is of a real concern to this country right now.  You have said China is the most significant threat against American national interests.  Do you think that Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, the two Canadians being detained in China right now, are being held hostage essentially?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I was pleased – it’s unfortunate it was necessary, but I was very pleased to join the Canadian initiative on the arbitrary detentions that some states, starting with China, are engaged in.  Using people, human beings, as pawns for political purposes, it is totally unacceptable conduct by any country.  And so we stand strongly with Canada when it comes to the need to see the two Michaels released immediately and unconditionally.  We will continue to stand with Canada on that.  I have made that clear in my own conversations with Chinese counterparts.  And we look forward to the day when they are able to return home.

QUESTION:  In December, I’m sure you know that there were some reports that the United States had approached Meng Wanzhou, the Huawei vice president, about the possibility of a deferred prosecution agreement, a sort of plea deal.  Is that still being considered?  Because clearly, China believes that these two cases, these three people, are connected.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  All of these matters are matters for our Department of Justice to look at and consider.  We follow the law.  We follow the facts.  And one of the things that we don’t do is have politics or foreign policy interfere in the workings of the Justice Department.  So these are matters that are properly in their jurisdiction.

QUESTION:  So you have no knowledge about whether that continues or whether that’s a possibility?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yeah, I’d refer you to the Justice Department.

QUESTION:  You’ve told your – you’ve told Chinese officials that the U.S. will continue to press China over its human rights record in Xinjiang and elsewhere, for that matter.  What does that mean practically?  What could the United States further do to reprimand China?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, I think there are a few things.  First of all, it is really important to speak up, to speak out, and to do so with other countries who share our abhorrence at what is – what’s happening to Uyghurs in Xinjiang or, for that matter, what’s happening to democracy in Hong Kong.

But in terms of practical measures, I think there are a number of things that can be done.  For example, countries should not be supplying any products or technology that can be used for the repression of people in China; for example, the Uyghurs.  Similarly, countries should look at making sure they’re not importing products that are made with forced labor.  Those are very practical things that countries can do and focus on to make sure that not only is our voice loud but our actions are too.

QUESTION:  I’m sure you know that our parliament this week voted to condemn what was happening, yes, but also to suggest that it is indeed a genocide.  However, cabinet and the prime minister abstained from that decision saying they needed more information.  Have you given the Canadian Government information to support confirmation that it is, in fact, a genocide we are seeing there?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, I think each country, each government needs to make its own assessment, its own determination following its laws and practices.  We’ve made clear what we believe, and we look to other countries to make their own determinations.

QUESTION:  So you – do you – you believe it is a genocide; is that accurate?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yes, I have said so, and I’ve made that clear on behalf of the United States.  President Biden, more importantly, has said so as well.

QUESTION:  And what would be the benefit of a multilateral declaration by countries led by the United States and Canada too of declaring it a genocide?  What would be the impact of that, Secretary?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Look, I think as a general matter we are much more effective when – in dealing with some of the challenges that China poses when we are doing it together.  When countries, democracies, are working together, speaking together, acting together, it’s a lot harder for China to ignore our collective voice and our collective weight than it is for China to ignore each of us individually.  So I think there is – there’s power in numbers.  And ultimately, the world coming together when it sees basic principles and basic standards violated is important in and of itself.

QUESTION:  Are you confident that because the Biden administration and yourself are now bringing this position on China to the world that the two Canadians will be released sooner rather than later?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Look, I certainly very, very much hope so.  And again, the initiative that Canada took to have countries speak as one and join as one against the arbitrary detention by states of their citizens is a significant and important initiative, because what we have to do among – obviously, we have to focus on bringing the two Michaels home.  But more broadly, we have to work together to establish a basic norm in international conduct that this is simply unacceptable.  That takes time.  It takes effort.  It takes sustained effort.

If you go back – it’s a very different thing, but it’s the same basic principle.  After World War I there was an abhorrence of the use of chemical weapons, and countries worked together over decades to establish a norm against their use, and it took hold.  And obviously, we’ve seen violations of that norm, but there is an under – an international understanding on that.  We need an international understanding on the prohibition against arbitrary detentions of countries’ citizens for political purposes.

QUESTION:  Your president has said that America is back.  It’s a refrain that our prime minister used when he first won as well.  I wonder:  How difficult is it to rebuild America’s position of leadership at multilateral organizations and around the world?  How difficult is it, do you think, going to be?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I’ve been – because I couldn’t – can’t yet travel, I’ve been burning up the phone lines since I’ve been in office.  And as I’ve said, I’m glad we’re on the family telephone plan here, otherwise our budget would be gone.  But I’m finding almost across the board a thirst and a thanks for American engagement, because here’s the – here’s the reality I think we’re all facing, including the United States:  Not a single one of the really big problems that we have to deal with on behalf of our people, things that are going to affect them or are affecting their daily lives, whether it’s changing climate, whether it’s this pandemic, whether it’s potentially the spread of a really dangerous weapon, not a single one can be dealt – can we deal with effectively with any one nation acting alone, even the United States.  There is a premium on cooperation, and the United States has an important role to play in trying to bring countries together to mobilize them in collective action to deal with the challenges that our citizens are facing every single day.

I think partners around the world recognize that, just as we recognize the absolute importance to the United States of having them engaged and having them in the game.  So I’m finding tremendous openness, and more than openness, even just a tremendous desire for this American re-engagement.

Now, that doesn’t mean we’re not going to have differences, we’re not going to have difficulties.  But there is, I think, a sense in country after country that there is more of a premium than there has ever been on countries working together to face these challenges that are literally making a difference in the lives of our fellow Americans, fellow Canadians every single day.

QUESTION:  One last question, and I am – I’m getting a wrap, so I will wrap it up.  But I do know that we are expecting a report on the killing of Jamal Khashoggi and that it will link the crown prince to that killing, that he directed the killing.  Can you confirm that that’s what the report, the declassified report, says and how the United States then will respond to that?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, I’ll let the report speak for itself.  I believe it’s going to be issued tomorrow.  We have a law on the books requiring the publication of that report.  We’re determined to follow the law.  We’re determined to have transparency across the board and let the report speak for itself tomorrow.

QUESTION:  Okay.  But how does it influence American policy, I guess, in relation to Saudi Arabia?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We’ll address all of that tomorrow when the report comes out.  I would say that as President Biden has said, Saudi Arabia remains an important partner for the United States on a whole host of issues, but we want to make sure that that partnership is clearly advancing our interests and reflects our values.

QUESTION:  Secretary, thank you so much for making the time for Canada.  Appreciate it, sir.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks.  Good to be with you.

(Break.)

QUESTION: (Via translation) (inaudible)….the two detained Canadians are hostages, and what is the United States ready to do to try to free them?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via translation) On our side, we insist that the two Michaels be able to return home to Canada without any conditions.  And more broadly, the initiative Canada is taking against countries that arbitrarily detain individuals for political reasons, we must all fight this practice and we must come to an understanding in the international community that these practices are unacceptable.  We support the Canadian initiative on this matter, and clearly we support Canada with regards to the return of the two Michaels.

QUESTION:  Your French is excellent.  That’s very impressive, Secretary.  Thank you for being so generous with that and with your time.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks.  Good to be with you.

Atrocities in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region

28 Feb

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

The United States is gravely concerned by reported atrocities and the overall deteriorating situation in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.  We strongly condemn the killings, forced removals and displacements, sexual assaults, and other extremely serious human rights violations and abuses by several parties that multiple organizations have reported in Tigray.  We are also deeply concerned by the worsening humanitarian crisis.  The United States has repeatedly engaged the Ethiopian government on the importance of ending the violence, ensuring unhindered humanitarian access to Tigray, and allowing a full, independent, international investigation into all reports of human rights violations, abuses, and atrocities.  Those responsible for them must be held accountable.

The United States acknowledges the February 26 statements from the Ethiopian Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs promising unhindered humanitarian access, welcoming international support for investigations into human rights violations and abuses, and committing to full accountability.  The international community needs to work collectively to ensure that these commitments are realized.

The immediate withdrawal of Eritrean forces and Amhara regional forces from Tigray are essential first steps.  They should be accompanied by unilateral declarations of cessation of hostilities by all parties to the conflict and a commitment to permit unhindered delivery of assistance to those in Tigray.  The United States is committed to working with the international community to achieve these goals.  To that end, USAID will deploy a Disaster Assistance Response Team to Ethiopia to continue delivering life-saving assistance.

We ask international partners, especially the African Union and regional partners, to work with us to address the crisis in Tigray, including through action at the UN and other relevant bodies.

The United States remains committed to building an enduring partnership with the Ethiopian people.

Dominican Republic Independence Day

27 Feb

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

On behalf of the Government of the United States of America, I send congratulations to the people of the Dominican Republic as you celebrate the 177th anniversary of your independence on February 27, 2021.

The United States and the Dominican Republic are bound together by extraordinary cultural and economic ties that contribute to the strength of both our countries.  We will continue to build upon our long-standing relationship, sharing a deep commitment to democratic governance, transparency, and sustainable economic growth.

We continue to stand together amid the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, with our contributions and technical assistance emblematic of our partnership.  The United States looks forward to our continued collaboration in these and other endeavors.

I send my best wishes to the Dominican people for many prosperous years ahead.

Honoring Boris Nemtsov on the Sixth Anniversary of his Murder

27 Feb

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

We honor the memory of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who was shot and killed within sight of the Kremlin’s walls six years ago.  As a public servant, Nemtsov dedicated his life to building a free and democratic Russia.  As we remember Nemtsov, we reaffirm our unwavering commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms.

We remain deeply troubled by the Russian government’s growing intolerance of all forms of independent expression.  Those who would speak out in defense of their freedoms and democracy in Russia continue to be targeted for attack and assassination.  The Russian people deserve better.

Secretary Antony J. Blinken At a Press Availability

27 Feb

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Press Briefing Room

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good afternoon. Very good to see everyone, and very nice to be back in your room.

Let me start out, if I can, by just speaking a little bit about my visits to Canada and Mexico today. I had the opportunity to conduct my first foreign visits with our important allies in Mexico and Canada. And as you will have noticed, we didn’t actually leave the State Department. The good news is no jet lag; the bad news is no frequent flyer miles. But we did, I think, innovate something interesting, driven by the times of COVID, but also using technology to be able to actually connect us to our partners and to do what we would do on an actual visit.

So we had broad ranging discussions that were substantive on the agendas that we share with both countries. I want to particularly thank my counterparts and their teams for very constructive engagement today.

We’ve got a great team here in Washington, and our missions in Mexico, in Canada – they did a lot of work to try to bring this together for what was really a first-of-its-kind virtual visit. And I have to say that based on the conversations that I had following on conversations that the President’s had, particularly this week with Prime Minister Trudeau, that we have very, very strong partnerships to work with and to advance our interests and values in the hemisphere and around the world.

I had, first, some very productive meetings with the Mexican Foreign Secretary Ebrard, and then the Secretary of the Economy Clouthier this morning. We discussed a number of issues, including the importance of bilateral trade, the need for continued collaboration to address security issues that impact both of our countries, and, of course, climate change.

In Canada, we just had a great conversation with Prime Minister Trudeau, following up on an earlier meeting that he had this week with President Biden where they announced the Roadmap for a Renewed U.S.-Canada Partnership. Spent some time with my counterpart, Foreign Minister Garneau, and other cabinet members, and we got to go in more depth and detail on climate change, promoting democratic values in the Western Hemisphere and around the world, and bolstering our shared defense and security.

In all of these meetings, I spoke with my counterparts in Mexico and Canada about the pandemic, slowing the spread of the virus through coordinated action at our shared borders, and reinvigorating our economies so that we can build back better together.

In addition to these bilateral meetings, I also toured the port of entry between El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and had a remarkable tour given to me by the head of the Customs and Border Patrol. I saw the very diligent work that our Department of Homeland Security colleagues are doing to ensure the safe, the orderly, and the humane processing at that crossing, and to facilitate the flow of individuals and commerce between our two countries.

Finally, I had a wonderful discussion in Canada just now with youth and Inuit leaders about climate change and about our shared priorities in the Arctic. In the conversation with this group and at the border crossing in Mexico, it was evident how interconnected we are today and for the future.

Today’s conversations represent the start of the next chapter of our bilateral partnerships. The United States has long-standing relationships with both Mexico and Canada. Today’s meetings were an opportunity to dive deeper into our shared priorities. We look forward to continuing conversations with our neighbors and friends in both countries to address shared challenges, to promote the prosperity of all of our people, and to promote a safe, secure, and prosperous hemisphere.

So with that, happy to take questions.

MR PRICE: We have a couple of our North American partners in the room, so we’ll start with Bricio Segovia Reche.

QUESTION: Thank you for doing this. MVS Radio from Mexico. I have two questions, if I may. The first one is regarding immigration. The administration has been saying that now it is not the time to come to the southern border. Is the United States currently accepting new asylum applications? And I’m not talking about the Remain in Mexico program. I’m talking about new applications.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks very much. I think as you’ve heard President Biden say and other colleagues in the administration say, we’re working comprehensively to make sure that we have a safe, an orderly, a secure, and humane border, particularly when it comes to migration issues. And we’re working at this on a number of fronts, and we’re working on the question of migration on a number of fronts.

First, as I think you’ve heard the President discuss in the past, we have a real focus on trying to address some of the root causes of migration, particularly from the countries in the Northern Triangle – Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. And that means working with those countries, working with Mexico, to over time deal with some of the drivers of migration, including insecurity, lack of opportunity, corruption, and other things that cause people to make that incredibly difficult decision to leave everything they know behind, to leave their families, to leave their friends, to leave their cultures, to leave their language, to leave their communities to try to make a very hazardous journey and come to a place where they may or may not be welcomed or accepted.

The way to really get at that challenge is to give people hope and opportunity to be able to have a secure and prosperous future in their own countries and to build the future of those countries. So the President is focused on that, and that will be reflected in a lot of the policies as well as some of the budget work that we’ll be doing.

Second, we are looking at ways to make the asylum process once again more rational and to make it once again something that is safe, secure, and humane. And so we have over time an effort to put in place the ability to once again process asylum applications in the United States, but it is going to take time to put that in place. And of course, we’re now – we now have health – COVID-related concerns that are of deep concern to everyone with regard to the border, and those are front and center. But over time, there will be a more rational asylum process that will allow us to deal with that. Now, there are people who are in the so-called protection protocols, which have been ended, and who were in that process who are now actually being processed, but that’s moving forward.

In addition, there are some other things that are very important. We are also looking at ways to make sure that we can look at applications for asylum in the countries that people are coming from. That’s important and we have some ability to do that. But the main thing is that all of these things take time to put in place, and now is not the time to try to come to the United States. If you’re in the Migrant Protection Protocol program and you are in that process, there is now a clear process for being reviewed and being considered; but if not, there – this is not the time to come, not the time to make a hazardous journey, because you will not be able to come into the United States.

QUESTION: But is it accepting – but you didn’t answer my question, I’m sorry. Is the U.S. accepting new applications at the moment at the border?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: So all of this process is being put into place. No, the asylum requests that are being considered are from people who are in the MPP program.

QUESTION: That’s it, right?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: That’s it.

MR PRICE: We’ll go to Adrian Morrow.

QUESTION: Thank you, Secretary. A couple of quick questions. On the case of the two Michaels in China, what specifically is the administration going to do to secure their release, whether it’s trying to tie some – their release to a DPA with Ms. Meng or some other action? What are the specific actions that you’re going to take there to help Canada get those guys released?

And then secondarily on Buy American, that’s one thing that a waiver or some guarantee that Canada won’t be subject to those tighter Buy American rules that the President is going to roll out. That’s one thing that Canada wants that would be sort of a quick win in terms of showing Canada that the new administration wants to sort of rekindle this bilateral alliance. Why not just make that commitment publicly that you’ll basically give Canada sort of the same thing that they received under the Obama administration?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. So let me take the second question first. With regard to Buy America, Buy American, these, of course, are longstanding things that have been on the books for many, many years, and we’re now looking at the executive order that the President issued. We’re – we’ll want to make sure as well that we’re consistent with our obligations, including under the WTO.

But beyond that I think is in our conversations with Canadian counterparts. I think we see tremendous opportunity working together both to build back better as we emerge from COVID-19 and to seize opportunities that we have together to do that, and as well, and particularly in something the President addressed both with Prime Minister Trudeau and also yesterday himself, and that is building more resilient supply chains. There is a lot of opportunity there between the United States and Canada that we intend to pursue.

So these questions specifically go to the question of government procurement and how we use the American taxpayers’ money, which, obviously, we’re very – we’re focused on. But my sense from the conversations between the two governments is that there is ample opportunity for us to work together and find ways to benefit each other in trade, in investment, and in the work that we’re doing, especially on things like supply chains.

With regard to the two Michaels, let me just say – and again, I think you heard President Biden address this – we stand in absolute solidarity with Canada in insisting on their immediate and unconditional release. Canada has taken, I think, a very important initiative that was inspired by the two Michaels but goes even beyond them, and that is to bring countries together to stand against the arbitrary detention of individuals for political purposes – a practice that we see in a number of countries, including China.

And there again, we are in strong support of this Canadian initiative. It has already brought dozens of countries together. I think and I hope that this can grow into something that establishes a new international norm against arbitrary detentions. This would be a very important contribution to international relations going forward, and this is something that the United States and Canada will work on together.

But we want to see the two Michaels return home. There are legal questions that are appropriately the province of our Department of Justice. They follow the law, they follow the facts, and I’d refer you to them for anything on the legal aspects of this case.

MR PRICE: Andrea Mitchell.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Given the fact that the CIA has concluded that Mohammed bin Salman personally approved the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, can you explain why he is not being punished in these decisions, and – especially since the President, when he was a candidate, told me during the debate that he would make Saudi Arabia a pariah state for what it had done?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well —

QUESTION: And could I just also ask about —

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Sure.

QUESTION: — Saudi Arabia’s reaction now? The foreign ministry is saying that they “reject the negative, false and unacceptable assessment in the report.”

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, Andrea, I think the report speaks for itself, and I think you’ve seen today a number of very important steps to recalibrate the relationship: first of all, the release of the report itself and the transparency that that provides. This is a report that, in a sense, is not fresh off the printing press. It’s been there. We released it. We were determined to bring transparency to this issue and to share with the American people what we know. And again, I think that report speaks for itself.

But beyond that you’ve seen a number, today, of very concrete steps that are both looking at past conduct but, as importantly, looking to the future to prevent future conduct. The Department of the Treasury is sanctioning former Saudi deputy head of general intelligence Ahmad al-Asiri for his direct role in the Istanbul operation that murdered Mr. Khashoggi. We’re also designating the Saudi Rapid Intervention Force as an entity under the Global Magnitsky Act for its participation in this murder.

We have taken action pursuant to what we’re calling the Khashoggi Ban to impose visa restrictions on 76 Saudi individuals believed to have been engaged in threatening dissidents overseas, including but not limited to the Khashoggi killing.

And importantly, we have introduced and announced a new policy that will apply the State Department’s ability to restrict and revoke visas to any individuals believed to be involved in extraterritorial activities targeting perceived dissidents or journalists – trying to harass them, surveil them, harm them or their families. Because this practice, this conduct, whether it’s by Saudi Arabia or anyone else, is totally unacceptable, and we now have a new tool to push back against that. More broadly, I would say the relationship with Saudi Arabia is an important one. We have significant ongoing interests. We remain committed to the defense of the kingdom. But we also want to make sure – and this is what the President has said from the outset – that the relationship better reflects our interests and our values. And so what we’ve done by the actions that we’ve taken is really not to rupture the relationship, but to recalibrate it to be more in line with our interests and our values. And I think that we have to understand as well that this is bigger than any one person. This recalibration goes to the policies that Saudi Arabia is pursuing and the actions that it’s taken.

And I would just add and conclude with this: We are already seeing some results from this recalibration. We’re seeing results in our own efforts joined, I hope, by Saudi Arabia to end the war in Yemen. We’re seeing the new policy approach we’ve taken to arms transfers and getting back to regular order with Congress. And I think that overall we are doing what the President said we should do, which was to review the relationship in its totality and to make sure that it goes forward in a way that better reflects our interests and values.

MR PRICE: Humeyra, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hello, Mr. Secretary. I want to follow up on Andrea’s question. You talked about future – preventing future actions, and you have unveiled a new ban, Khashoggi Ban. But you have fallen short of punishing the very person that DNI has said is responsible for this. So how are you – because of this lack of accountability, how is that not counter to your actions to ensure accountability elsewhere in the future? Isn’t this counterproductive?

And also, on the arm sales, what is the U.S. thinking in light of this report to arms sales to Saudi Arabia? I know that there’s a review, but how can you justify going ahead with those arms sales after this report?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. First, with regard to arms sales, you’re exactly right. There’s an ongoing review. And there is a very important distinction between our commitment to not engage or not support offensive activities and operations in Yemen, including through the provision of offensive weapons, and the legitimate needs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in terms of its own defense, something, as I said, we remain committed to. So we’re reviewing these arms sales and we’re making sure that going forward, what we do provide goes to the defense of the kingdom, not its ability to prosecute offensive operations.

And the other thing that’s very important about this is that as we go forward, we’re going to do so in full consultation with Congress, something that had been – we’ve gotten away from in the past. And so we’re going to get back to regular order, not just with Saudi Arabia but with any country with whom we – we’re engaged and are selling arms to and providing security assistance to. So that I think is very important.

As to accountability, again, I think this report speaks for itself. And the fact that we have provided the transparency necessary to shine a bright light on what happened through the assessment, not just of the media, as important as you are, but the United States Government is, in and of itself, I think significant action. And beyond that, for Mr. Khashoggi not to have been murdered totally in vain, we now have in place a new policy that applies not just to Saudi Arabia, but across the board, and that gives us, I think, a greater ability to deter the kinds of egregious actions that were taken against him and against other dissidents, opponents, and others speaking out or their families going forward. And that I hope will be in some small measure an important legacy.

MR PRICE: Time for one final question. Michele, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. One quick thing on Mohammed bin Salman: Can the U.S. still do business with him? And then on Syria, what message do you hope Iran gets out of the U.S. strike on Syria yesterday?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: As I said earlier, the relationship with Saudi Arabia is bigger than any one individual. The President engaged, as you know, with King Salman. I’ve spoken to my counterpart, the foreign minister, and Secretary Austin has spoken to his counterpart, who happens to be Mohammed bin Salman.

With regard to the strike in Syria, we had on multiple occasions in the last 10 days or so attacks on our people, our position, our interests that took lives and injured others, and so we had both to respond to those attacks but also to an ongoing threat that was very clear. And so we took this action that I think was focused, proportionate, but also effective in degrading some of the capacity that the militia in question had to perpetrate new attacks – and also to be very clear, notably to Iran, that they cannot act with impunity against our people, our partners, our interests. And I think and expect that that message was clearly received. Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thank you very much, everyone.

Secretary Antony J. Blinken Virtual Discussion with Students on Ice

27 Feb

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Washington, D.C.

MR GREEN: Good afternoon. Hello and bonjour, Secretary – Mr. Secretary. It’s a pleasure to meet you. My name is Geoff Green, and I’m the founder and the president of the Students on Ice Foundation. I am joining you today from the National Capital Region of Canada, here in Gatineau, Quebec. And I’d like to begin by acknowledging that this is the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people, who have lived on this land and these waters, like the mighty Ottawa River not far from here, since time immemorial.

We are grateful and thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with you today and to be part of your virtual visit to Canada. Bienvenue. For the past 20 years, the Students on Ice Foundation has been leading educational expeditions to the Arctic and to the Antarctic, cornerstones of our global ecosystem. And by immersing youth in nature and connecting them to the land, to the ocean, to peers and mentors, and to challenges and opportunities facing our planet, this has been inspiring diverse young leaders, innovators, and global citizens.

Today, more than 3,300 alumni from 52 countries have participated, including hundreds of youth from across the United States. These expeditions have been life-changing, and they’re making a difference in remarkable ways. From indigenous-led research and conservation, engagement in the sustainable blue economy, to youth delegations that go to Arctic policy conferences and global climate change meetings.

Community-based efforts. Our alumni are taking action for a healthy and sustainable future at all levels. This includes the five exceptional youths from across Canada who I am proud to welcome to our roundtable discussion today: Julia Trombley, Will Sanderson, Enooyaq Sudlovenick, Nicholas Flowers, and Allisa Sallans. Our Students on Ice programs are possible thanks to many global partnerships, and this includes our great friends at the U.S. embassy in Canada who have been supporting youth and educators on our expeditions and have helped to make the event today possible. So thank you.

This and so many experiences with our biggest neighbor over the years has reinforced our friendship, shared values, and our shared commitment as Arctic nations to taking on climate change, environmental protection, and increasing collaboration awareness and support for the Arctic and its peoples.

So it is my honor to welcome the United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining us today to discuss bilateral collaboration in the Arctic and a few other issues facing the Arctic and our two nations. So with that, I turn it over to you, and a very warm virtual welcome to Canada.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Geoff, thank you so much. And it’s wonderful to be with all of you virtually, if not in person. Thank you for letting our delegation join you here as well today. I’m anxious to be in Canada in person, but for now, given COVID, we’ll rely on technology. And I’m grateful that we have it and that we can get together this way. And I thank you – maybe it’s the wrong word for it given that this is Students on Ice, but thank you for the warm welcome – (laughter) – which is very, very much appreciated.

I have to tell you as well I’m really pleased that we have several Fulbright and International Visitor Leadership Program alumni here with us today. These are programs that I feel very, very strongly about. When I last worked at the State Department, it’s something I focused on. I’ve seen the extraordinary value they bring. Even if I didn’t I wouldn’t have much choice, because during President Obama’s administration my wife actually ran these programs at the State Department, so it’s something that’s really close to home.

But the truth of the matter is each of you represents these ties, personal ties, between our two countries. And that makes a huge difference, and it’s a lasting difference that I’ve seen over generations.

We’re, of course, not only neighbors but friends and allies. We share ideas and we share ideals in many ways, and we are constantly working together to find common solutions. I had the opportunity to spend some time with counterparts from the Canadian Government and with Prime Minister Trudeau just a short while ago, and it’s hard to think of two countries that are more in sync, more aligned, more in common in terms of their shared aspirations for our people and for the future. And that’s very, very gratifying.

The United States and Canada, of course, are Arctic nations. And as you all know a lot better than I do, since the Arctic makes up about 40 percent of Canadian territory, it really is a unique and important place where we have a responsibility, I think, to work closely together to address a lot of shared challenges but also, I think, shared opportunities.

Like Canada, the United States seeks sustainable economic development that supports local and indigenous communities and respects principles of good governance and transparency. These are very important principles for us that we share with you.

We’re cooperating closely between governments across the Arctic region and in regional institutions like the Arctic Council. We’re working together to try to promote safety and security, that sustainable economic growth that we both want, and continued cooperation among the Arctic states to try to support and strengthen a rules-based order throughout the region. And we throw these terms around easily, but they really do mean something in our lives and in the lives of our citizens. When countries are working together based on a shared set of rules and obligations and responsibilities, that’s how we’re going to make progress. If not, if we’re not doing that, we’re going to have a free-for-all, we’re going to have chaos, and we may well have conflict. So we both, I think, believe that very strongly and have a real stake in that.

But this goes beyond, of course, government-to-government work. My colleagues at the U.S. embassy and our consulates in Canada also contribute to this cooperation through cultural exchanges, academic exchanges, including the Fulbright Arctic Initiative with funds from both Canada and the United States, which is jointly led by an American and Canadian scholar, and we’ve got other programs in the region. Bringing together all of these different interested groups and individuals and stakeholders is something I think we also do very well together and something that makes a difference.

And of course, I’m very proud that we have been able to support Students on Ice for the better part of a decade now. One of the issues I just want to mention as we have a conversation, and maybe we can come back to it, is, of course, climate change, because it’s maybe the driving issue of our times. And I think you know the United States is re-engaged on climate and on helping to lead in the efforts and in international responsibilities. We rejoined, of course, the Paris accord. We’ll be holding a meeting of leaders in April, and then there’s a very, very important gathering at the – toward the end of the year that the United Kingdom will be hosting in Glasgow for the COP-26. But we’re determined to use this year to make real progress in assuring our common future in tackling climate change.

But I’m real eager to have a conversation, to hear from you, take any questions, but I would be remiss if I didn’t also make sure that you knew who’s here with me at the table. We have – and also on our video screen we have our charge d’affaires in Canada, Katherine Brucker, who is here, I think, on the screen. We have our senior official for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, Ambassador Marcia Bernicat, who is here with us today. We have our assistant secretary for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Julie Chung. We have an assistant secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs Matthew Lussenhop, who is running the bureau that my wife used to run a few years ago, so he’s especially important today. And the chief of staff to the State Department Suzy George, and we’re very, very happy to be with all of you.

(In French.)

Let’s open it up to questions, comments, anything anyone wants to talk about.

MR GREEN: Merci beaucoup, Mr. Secretary. Boy, some wonderful words they have been. I’d love to dig into so much of that with you. I do have five students with me that are eager to ask you some questions, but I would just echo your points about the Arctic definitely does shape who we are as a country here in Canada, and I think the same applies to the United States, and it also shapes the world. That’s why it’s so important that we’re having this discussion and addressing these issues that we’re touching on today.

The first question I have comes from Julia Trombley. Julia was on our 2017 Arctic expedition. She’s from Fort Erie, Ontario, a recent graduate from the University of Guelph, and she was part of the Students on Ice delegation at the National Youth Reconciliation Conference and also just with us in Washington for the Arctic Futures 2050 Conference recently. Over to you, Julia.

QUESTION: Thank you, Geoff. And hi, Secretary Blinken. It’s a pleasure to meet you. The question I’d like to ask is if your 22-year-old self was living in the year 2021, what would he be passionate about, and what advice would you give him on pursuing that passion?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Wow. Well, that’s a – it’s a – that’s a wonderful question, Julia. First of all, it’s very good to see you. And gosh, I think there are a few things. So I think that in terms of what my passions would be, in many ways they’d probably be not dissimilar either now or then, which is to say I had a huge opportunity when I was growing up both to have a family that was really interested in goings on beyond the borders of the United States. They – conversations at the table often turned to questions of foreign policy and what different countries were doing.

And then when I was nine, I actually wound up moving from New York to France, to Paris, and so I grew up in Paris from age 9 to 18 before coming back to the United States for university. And that was in so many ways a remarkable experience, but in particular it gave me the opportunity to see my own country through the eyes of others, and it also I think turned me into a junior diplomat, because when you’re an American abroad or a Canadian abroad conversations come up, arguments come up, discussions come up about various things that your country is doing or not doing, and you wind up getting into those conversations, and it really I think got me interested in diplomacy and how different countries work together and how they deal with some of the differences that they have. So that was a passion that was deep-rooted. And now I get to give it some expression actually working on it every day here at the State Department.

I think the other advice – the advice that I would give probably now to my 22-year-old self was that besides the passion for foreign policy and diplomacy, I was very passionate about music and remain so. But when I was 22, I probably still harbored the vague ambition that I might somehow make a life and a career out of music. And my current self would probably say forget about it, the talent isn’t there. But that only came with hindsight.

But in all seriousness too, here’s what I would really say, and that’s one of the greatest blessings in life is to be passionate about something, and an even greater blessing if you’re able to act on that passion. And if you find that in your life, whatever it is, that will I think make for the most fulfilling, happiest, most rewarding life possible. And the hard truth is not everyone finds it, or even people who find it may not have the opportunity to really follow it.

But if you’re in that relatively small group of folks who really find the passion and have an opportunity to follow it, do it. It will be so remarkably rewarding, and it will take you to places, literally and figuratively, that you couldn’t even imagine when you’re 21 or 22. And certainly in my case, developing a passion early for foreign policy and government and international relations has taken me to places I never would have imagined.

MR GREEN: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. And thank you, Julia, for that question. Inspiring words especially for youth setting off on their journeys in life.

The next question that we have for you comes all the way from Nunavut, from Enooyaq Sudlovenick from Iqaluit. And Enooyaq was part of our 2018 Arctic expedition. She has a master’s in veterinary medicine and is currently pursuing her Ph.D. at the University of Manitoba, focusing on beluga whale health and the incorporation of Inuit knowledge with western science. Over to you, Enooyaq.

QUESTION: Thanks, Geoff. Unnuhatkut, good day, Mr. Secretary. It’s an honor to be here to speak to you today. And my question is: Last month President Biden announced a temporary moratorium on oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. So will local indigenous communities be consulted on any future plans of natural resource development in the Arctic?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks so much for your question, and wonderful to meet you virtually. So when President Biden signed the executive order in question, one of the things he said is we’re going to review the oil and gas leasing program. And some of this gets a little bit complicated in terms of the different government institutions and entities that get involved, but basically, the order calls on our Secretary of the Interior to pause new oil and gas – natural gas leases on public land or in offshore waters pending this comprehensive review, and that includes the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

So what happens then is there’s kind of a process by which the Secretary of the Interior really sets up a way to consider this and to review this, and I think the President – President Biden – sent a very strong signal of his direction and the need to consult by nominating someone who may be known to you, and that is a remarkable congresswoman, Deb Haaland, for our interior secretary, and she is going to be a remarkable interior secretary, someone who is deeply experienced as a legislator but also an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, and I expect we’ll hear a lot more on her plans once she’s actually confirmed. We’re in the early days and she has to get into office.

But we had a meeting earlier this week with President Biden and Prime Minister Trudeau and our teams, and we have a roadmap between our countries for a renewed partnership between the United States and Canada. And President Biden and Prime Minister Trudeau also recognized the ecological importance of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and in particular, they agreed to work together to help safeguard the Porcupine caribou herd, the calving grounds that are truly invaluable to local people’s culture and subsistence. The prime minister and the President agreed also to be partners in protecting nature, including by supporting indigenous-led conservation efforts. So these were things that were front and center in the exchange that we had and the conversation we had.

They also agreed to work together on environmental restoration and conservation efforts, and to try to advance nature-based climate solutions. And that’s also critical. But in advancing climate solutions and protecting nature, I think both of them also agreed on the importance of doing this work with indigenous peoples, with subnational governments, with workers; with stakeholders, including civil society, including youth, including business, including industry.

The bottom line is on so many different things, including this, we have to bring everyone together who has an interest, who has a stake in the issue. If one group tries to do it while ignoring the needs, the concerns of others, it’s probably not going to be sustainable anyway. And so I think this is something that both President Biden and Prime Minister Trudeau feel very, very strongly. We have to approach all of these challenges together and find ways to advance them together. So I think that’s the spirit as well as the practical way we’re going to approach this problem.

MR GREEN: (In Inuktitut.) And thank you, Secretary Blinken, for that excellent answer. I’m being told we only have time for one more question from the students, and that’s coming from Will Sanderson from Kingston, Ontario, who, in addition to taking part in our Arctic expedition in 2014, was a member of our youth delegation to the 2018 Arctic Circle Assembly in Iceland, and he’s also been part of our 2019 Climate Action Cohort, which is a program at Students on Ice helping to develop young climate leaders. So over to you, Will.

QUESTION: Yeah, thank you very much, Geoff, and nice to meet you, Secretary Blinken. It’s an honor. In recent years, there’s been a greater push by the international community to look towards the Arctic for economic development, whether that be for resources exploration or to pursue newly open trade routes. I’m curious how you think Arctic nations like Canada and the United States should respond to these international pushes, and how we can ensure that Arctic conservation remains the top priority.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Will, thanks very much, and I – that’s an important question and one that I think we have to be very focused on. Because in the Arctic, as really anywhere else, but acutely in the Arctic, we have to be able to strike the right balance between conservation and development. And an integral part of that has to be, again, engagement with the communities most directly affected, with Arctic communities, and that respects their right to economic development, but also, of course, their profound interest in sustainability and in conservation of the habitat that they’re living in.

I also don’t think, at the end of the day, that development and conservation have to be mutually exclusive. It does not need to be a zero-sum game. And in many ways, they can even actually reinforce each other. If you’ve got the right incentives, if you’ve got the right oversight, conservation can deliver economic benefits to communities. And we see that parenthetically when we’re talking about dealing with climate change. We see that in the extraordinary opportunities afforded by the development of green technology. That can be a powerful economic tool as well as, of course, a powerful tool to dealing with climate change.

So I think that through bilateral country-to-country work, multilateral engagement in these international organizations and gatherings, including the launch of an expanded U.S.-Canada Arctic dialogue and cooperation in places like the Arctic Council, we can share a lot of experience on how to strike that balance, how to get it right, because it is so important. And I think we can also consider models of sustainable development that have worked in other regions and may have promise in the Arctic too.

We need to learn from our experience in other places, we need to learn from our mistakes, and we need to learn from others. No one has a monopoly on the right answers, and I think there’s a premium on making sure we’re taking in the experiences that others have had in trying to get this balance right. But the bottom line is you’re 100 percent right to be to be focused on this, but I do think we can do this in a way that is not one or the other.

MR GREEN: Thank you again, Secretary Blinken, and thank you, Will, for that question. I think we could ask you questions all day long, but, unfortunately, I don’t think the time will allow for that. So I do want to thank everyone for those questions, and Secretary Blinken for your thoughtful responses.

It’s clear how informed and engaged many of our – well, our students and Ice alumni are, and many youth are today – global youth addressing global issues, and that’s really important. Their voices and actions are critical now and in the future. And again, thank you to our alumni today, because they truly showcase the passion and concern that Canadian youth have for the Arctic, for the environment, and these other pressing challenges and opportunities ahead.

It’s been an honor to speak with you today, Mr. Secretary. We really look forward to a continued dialogue together, to seeing you here in Canada, and to strengthening U.S.-Canadian – this incredible partnership and friendship that we share. And perhaps we might even get you on to a Students on Ice Arctic expedition in the future.

So it’s now my pleasure to introduce Lynda Brown and Heidi Langille. They’re Inuit cultural ambassadors and throat singers, and they perform under the name Siqniup Qilautu.

Lynda and Heidi, the virtual stage is yours.

QUESTION: (In Inuktitut.) It’s a pleasure. (Inaudible) or any traditional throat singing was traditionally done between two women as a friendly competition, and you’re trying to trip the other person up, so there’s a leader and a follower. And the leader sets the rhythm, the pace, and the sound, and the follower comes about half a second afterwards. We have 3 different types of throat songs: imitations, competitions, and lullabies. And we’ll be demonstrating two different types: an imitation song from Northern Quebec and a lullaby from Nunavut.

So the first one we’re going to do is (inaudible).

(A song is sung.)

QUESTION: Lynda won that song. So that was part of the (inaudible). The next one we’re going to do for you is a lullaby. It comes from Baker Lake, which is the geographic center of Canada. And it’s a lullaby, so it’s much softer. And oftentimes, we would put our babies to sleep when they were in (inaudible) with this song. So this is the love song.

(A song is sung.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN: That’s wonderful and extraordinary. I am amazed at – there’s got to be a synthesizer or a lot of other people there. I can’t believe that – what you’re able to do just the two of you together. And the lullaby – so I may need to borrow that because I have a two-year-old and a one-year-old, and I want to try that out. So if we can get a recording or maybe just come on by next time you’re in Washington. Thank you so much.

MR GREEN: Thank you so much. I think Heidi and Linda actually have an album they can send you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Wonderful. And by the way, Geoff, for anyone who didn’t get a chance to ask a question or make a comment, please just send that along and I’ll find a way to get you an answer.

MR GREEN: Hey, that would be – that – it’s really appreciated. Both Nicholas and Allisa had some great questions for you. We’ll pass those on.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Please do.

MR GREEN: And all the best.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you all, and good luck. I’ve got to say, just in conclusion – and it’s to the point that Geoff was making a couple of minutes ago – your voice, your vision, your ideas have never been more important. There’s so many usually consequential and complicated changes going on in the world, and we need your engagement, we need your ideas, we need your passion. Because the longer you go on in life, sometimes you get a little bit set in your ways, and maybe set in your ideas and set in the way you look at things. And the great advantage of a new generation is to be able to bring fresh ideas, new ideas, perspectives, energy (inaudible).

Secretary Antony J. Blinken to U.S. Mission Canada

26 Feb

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Washington, D.C.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you so much, and greetings, Mission Canada.  Bonjour, tout le monde.  I am so pleased to be with you.  Thank you to Charge d’Affaires Katherine Brucker for that very kind introduction, and especially for your leadership.  And thanks also to Jennifer Tierney for her hard work as the primary control officer for this week’s visit.  And let me emphasize:  This is an experiment.  This is the first virtual visit I think we’ve done, and I couldn’t be more excited about it.  I know that it puts a different kind of strain on the embassy team, especially all of our technical and technological officers.  I was talking to the charge about what kind of wheels-up party you’re going to have after I leave, so I look forward to hearing about that.

But in all seriousness, I am disappointed we can’t be together in person.  But testing this virtual travel with you is something I was looking forward to, and I very much look forward to being in Ottawa someday soon.

I was also reminded that the very first trip that I took as a State Department employee – in 1993 I was working in the front office of EUR as a special assistant.  And in those days – this is how long I go back – Canada was in EUR.  And the first trip I took accompanying the assistant secretary was to Ottawa, just around this time of the year.  So I remember it very, very well.

But thanks to you we have a robust schedule for my first trip to Canada as Secretary.  It includes meetings with leaders across the Canadian Government and a conversation with a group of young people from the program Students on Ice, which leads expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic to make sure future leaders understand the importance of the polar regions – something I’m sure everyone at Mission Canada already knows very well.

It’s no accident I’m traveling to Canada as part of my first virtual trip as Secretary.  The relationship between our countries is one of the most important that we have.  Ours is the most comprehensive bilateral trade relationship in the world, and of course before COVID-19, hundreds of thousands of people crossed back and forth across our shared border every single day.  Our governments worked together on everything from national security to climate change, to the opioid crisis, to managing the Arctic region.  It’s a vast, deep, immensely important diplomatic relationship, and it’s thanks to you.

Whether you’re a direct hire, locally employed staff, a family member, whether you work for the State Department or for one of the many other U.S. Government agencies represented here – from the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Defense, to the commercial service – I am deeply grateful for everything you do every day.

And I’ve got to mention one person in particular who has served the U.S. Embassy in Canada for 32 years as a locally employed staff member, most recently at the Financial Management Center in Ottawa, and whose well-deserved retirement begins tomorrow: Debbie Cowell.  Debbie, I’m honored to be part of your last day, but thank you for every day you’ve dedicated to serving this mission.

Even in a less eventful era, the work you all do was often difficult.  But I know that during COVID-19, during this pandemic, it’s become so much harder.  I know the border crossing restrictions were painful, especially for those with families on the U.S. side.  Some of you have gotten sick.  You’ve had loved ones get sick.  It’s been a difficult and even devastating time for so many families.

I want you to know that stopping this pandemic is our number-one priority.  Nothing matters more to me than your health and safety.  So we’re going to make sure that all our Mission Canada employees and eligible family members are vaccinated as soon as possible in every consulate across the country.  It’s no secret there have been logistical challenges.  But the administration is working fast.  We’re going to get you as much information as we can as quickly as we can, and make sure that our vaccination plans are known, and that we’re executing on them.  And we need to partner in this every step of the way.

I know you’ve been working hard to keep a lot of essential work going throughout the pandemic.  You’ve worked with your Canadian partners to maintain critical supply chains.  You’ve kept the border open to essential travel.  You’ve made sure critical law enforcement and security operations have continued.  Whether you know it or not, and whether they know it or not, all of your work has made a difference to the lives of Americans during an incredible, difficult time.

So my message today is really simple.  It’s to say thank you.  Thank you for all you’re doing every single day to keep the ties between our countries strong, and to help grow them even stronger.  And I have to tell you it is the honor of my lifetime to be your Secretary.

In my first remarks as Secretary, I said that we have work to do as a department to rebuild trust and morale.  We’ve got to do a better job of listening to the people of the State Department when formulating policy.  We’ve got to invest in diversity and inclusion.  We’ve got to build a workplace culture of collegiality, teamwork, and respect.  And I want to be clear:  That doesn’t just apply to the people at Main State.  It applies to you and all your colleagues in embassies and consulates around the world.  We are all part of this community, and I’m deeply committed to doing everything I can to support you, your work, and your families.

So thank you again for helping make my first virtual trip to Canada a success, and thank you, thank you for your service to the United States.

Secretary Antony J. Blinken And Canadian Foreign Minister Marc Garneau Before Their Meeting

26 Feb

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Washington, D.C.

Ben Franklin Room

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  And our colleagues are here.

FOREIGN MINISTER GARNEAU:  Well, thank you very much, Tony.  Great to see you again after our very productive meeting on Tuesday.  I really welcome the commitments that Prime Minister Trudeau and President Biden made on the roadmap, which, in fact, mirrors many of the themes that you raised in your own confirmation hearings to renew U.S. leadership and diplomacy.

This is a particularly important time as we continue to face the COVID-19 pandemic.  Both Canadians and Americans have been impacted by this pandemic and have suffered losses and faced many challenges in this crisis.  I think you’ll agree with me now is not the time for our two nations to turn inward.

It’s important that we work together to fight COVID-19, support our citizens, and ensure that a sustainable and inclusive economic recovery can happen.  It’s also important that we maintain the integrity of our cross-border supply chains.  This is where the rubber hits the road – or, if I could say, the rubber hits the roadmap.  (Laughter.)  The Canada-U.S. trade relationship is balanced, fair, and highly complementary in many areas, including the manufacturing, technological, agri-food, and energy sectors, just to name a few.

We have a lot of work ahead of us, and the roadmap, I think, charts a course for Canada and the United States to partner and to tackle many challenges, including the ones that we’re going to discuss today.  I note the emphasis on diversity and inclusion in the roadmap as well as your announcement earlier this week creating a new chief diversity and inclusion officer at the State Department.  We’re working on similar things as well, and I’d be very happy if our officials could exchange best practices and things we might do together.

(In French.)

As the United States engages, I want you to know that you can count on Canada to be by your side, and I think that you’ll find that we can be surprisingly helpful to you while advancing our own objectives.

So thank you very much and delighted to be with you today.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Marc, thank you so very much for receiving our virtual delegation in Canada.  I so wish that we could be there in person, but I’m looking very much forward to the day, I think sooner rather than later, when we’ll actually be able to do that, and also to see you here in Washington.

Like you, I’m so pleased that our leaders were able to spend real quality time together a few days ago and to review and renew the U.S.-Canada partnership, particularly with regard to the roadmap, and I subscribe to everything that you said.  But we have an incredibly broad and deep agenda to go through and to cover.  It’s hard to think of two countries whose destines are more connected, more intertwined than ours.  And we know that every single day the work that we’re doing – but more importantly, the deep ties between our people in virtually every aspect of our societies – are benefitting both countries.  And this is very much the spirit in which we’re looking forward to this real renewal in our relationship.

I was, I think, telling some colleagues the other day I first started working at the State Department in 1993, and the very first trip that I made with my then boss was to Canada.  So, in a sense, the first foreign trip I made working in government was to Canada, and it’s wonderful to be able to make this virtual trip today.  The good news is no jet lag, the bad news is no frequent flier miles, but we’ll work on both of those things.

I know we have a lot to talk about, and you’ve alluded to virtually all of the key points.  I would say one of the things that’s so important is that when we’re working together, especially on the many global challenges that confront both of our countries and both of our peoples, we are really democratic and diplomatic force multipliers for each other.  And that’s something that the United States places great, great value in.

(In French.)

So thank you so much for welcoming us today, and let’s get down to work.

FOREIGN MINISTER GARNEAU:  Thank you.

Secretary Antony J. Blinken to U.S. Mission Mexico

26 Feb

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Washington, D.C.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, John, thank you very, very much, and hello, everybody.  It is wonderful to be with you virtually, and hopefully at some point soon in person.  But thanks so much to our Charge D’affaires John Creamer – John, for your leadership and for that very kind introduction.  I want to say thank you as well, to Yvonne Gonzales and Naomi Fellows, for their hard work as the control officers for this unique visit.  I’m wondering exactly what kind of wheels up party you’re going to have, when I quote-unquote, “leave.”  Maybe it’s a link-down party.  We need to find some kind of new terminology for it.  But I’m really grateful for all you’ve done to make this possible.  And I really do wish I could be with you in person today, but I’m delighted that we’re pioneering virtual travel together.

With your help, we put together a strong itinerary for my first trip to Mexico as Secretary.  We’ve got meetings with leaders across the Mexican Government, a virtual tour of the El Paso/Ciudad Juarez port of entry.  By the end of the week, I think we will have touched on many of the critical issues that the United States and Mexico deal with together: migration, security, economic growth, regional competitiveness, environmental sustainability.  We could literally stretch this visit out for weeks and still have more issues to cover, because, as you know better than anyone, our relationship with Mexico is one of the most comprehensive we have in the world.  And I very much agree with John, this really is one of the most important relationships we have with any country anywhere.

And that’s why I’m visiting Mexico during my very first trip as Secretary.  The family, the cultural, the economic, the security, the political, the legal ties we have with Mexico are vast. And you, the women and men of Mission Mexico, are responsible for maintaining those ties every single day.

So I really wanted to just say one very simple thing at the outset, and that’s thank you.  Whether you’re direct hire employees, locally employed staff, family members, whether you work for the State Department or for one of the many other U.S. Government agencies represented here from Treasury to the FDA to the DOJ, you are part of this mission.  So thank you for serving the United States.  And thank you for shaping and leading this complex diplomatic partnership, which is so vital to American interests, and maybe more than anything else, directly affects millions of American families, millions of American lives every day.

I have some sense from my past service that this work is often difficult.  I know it takes sacrifice, and that’s in normal times.  This past year has been particularly hard because of COVID-19. You’ve lost 21 colleagues to the virus, including contractors and local guards.  That’s devastating. And I know that many more of you have gotten sick or seen loved ones get sick.  So I want you to know that stopping this pandemic is our number one priority.  Nothing matters more to me than your health and safety.  That is job one.  So I’m determined to do everything we can to make sure that all our Mission Mexico employees and eligible family members are vaccinated as soon as possible in every consulate across the country.  I don’t think it’s a secret that there have been logistical challenges, but I want to tell you the administration is working fast, and we will give you as much information as we can as soon as we can as we make our vaccination plans and we execute on them.

We have to be partners in this every step of the way, and I’m determined that we move this as quickly as we possibly can.  I also want to acknowledge the extraordinary work that you’ve done to keep this embassy functioning throughout the pandemic.  Consulate General Monterrey managed to process more than a quarter million H-2 visas last year, and that in turn helps secure the U.S. food supply chain.  Mission Mexico adjudicated more than 40 percent of all non-immigrant visas worldwide.  That’s remarkable.  Last time I was in Mexico as deputy secretary, I spent some time visiting with Consular Affairs, visiting with the American services folks, and I know what a remarkable job you’re doing every day, and again, in this pandemic, what was already a challenging task has become even more so.

You’ve ensured that critical manufacturing and service supply chains stayed operational.  USAID kept its work going with farmers and communities in southern Mexico, helping them switch to more sustainable land management practices.  And on the public diplomacy front, you continue to engage the Mexican public virtually.  I know you do this work because you believe in it.  It is more than a job; it is truly service.  And I just want you to know that as Secretary, I will try to honor your service by doing all I can to support you.

I know that we have work to do as a department to rebuild trust, rebuild morale.  We’ve got to do a better job listening to the women and men of State when formulating policy.  We’ve got to invest in diversity and inclusion, and I know that’s a priority for this mission.  More broadly, we’ve got to build a workplace culture of collegiality, teamwork, and respect.  I am deeply committed to this work, and I want to be clear:  It doesn’t just apply to the people at Main State. It applies to you and all your colleagues in embassies and consulates around the world.  We are all part of this community, and I am incredibly proud to be your Secretary.  So thank you again for helping make my first virtual trip to Mexico a success.  I look forward to the day when I can be there in person, but mostly, thank you for your service to the United States.

Accountability for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi

26 Feb

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

In October 2018, the world was horrified by the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a lawful permanent resident of the United States, in the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.  Individuals should be able to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms without fear of government retribution, retaliation, punishment, or harm.  Jamal Khashoggi paid with his life to express his beliefs.  President Biden said in a statement released last October on the second anniversary of the murder that Mr. Khashoggi’s death would not be in vain, and that we owe it to his memory to fight for a more just and free world.

Today, the Biden-Harris Administration submitted an unclassified report to Congress, providing transparency on this horrific killing.  Alongside the transmission of that report, and as part of the President’s pledge, the United States Government is announcing additional measures to reinforce the world’s condemnation of that crime, and to push back against governments that reach beyond their borders to threaten and attack journalists and perceived dissidents for exercising their fundamental freedoms.

To that end, today I am announcing the “Khashoggi Ban,” a new visa restriction policy pursuant to section 212(a)(3)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.  The Khashoggi Ban allows the State Department to impose visa restrictions on individuals who, acting on behalf of a foreign government, are believed to have been directly engaged in serious, extraterritorial counter-dissident activities, including those that suppress, harass, surveil, threaten, or harm journalists, activists, or other persons perceived to be dissidents for their work, or who engage in such activities with respect to the families or other close associates of such persons.  Family members of such individuals also may be subject to visa restrictions under this policy, where appropriate.

To start, the U.S. Department of State has taken action pursuant to the Khashoggi Ban to impose visa restrictions on 76 Saudi individuals believed to have been engaged in threatening dissidents overseas, including but not limited to the Khashoggi killing.  When identifying individuals for purposes of the Khashoggi Ban, we will also review them for designation under Section 7031(c) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act of 2020, as carried forward by the CA Act of 2021, which authorizes the denial of visas to them and their immediate family members as well as their public identification.

As a matter of safety for all within our borders, perpetrators targeting perceived dissidents on behalf of any foreign government should not be permitted to reach American soil.

I also have directed that the State Department fully report on any such extraterritorial activities by any government in our annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.  The United States will continue to shine a light on any government that targets individuals, either domestically or extraterritorially, merely for exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

While the United States remains invested in its relationship with Saudi Arabia, President Biden has made clear that partnership must reflect U.S. values.  To that end, we have made absolutely clear that extraterritorial threats and assaults by Saudi Arabia against activists, dissidents, and journalists must end.  They will not be tolerated by the United States.