Paraguay Independence Day

14 May

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

On behalf of the people of the United States, I congratulate the people of Paraguay as you celebrate the 210th anniversary of your independence.

In the face of the numerous challenges our countries have experienced this past year, we continue to strengthen our cooperation in critical areas such as health, economic prosperity, support for democracy, and security.  The United States has redoubled our efforts to support Paraguay’s response to the global COVID-19 pandemic by providing intensive care unit beds, lifesaving medications, oxygen, equipment, and laboratory analysis support.  We will continue to stand by Paraguay as our two countries work together to end this global health crisis.  Our partnership will continue to play a vital role in advancing our shared objectives for peace, prosperity, and security throughout the region.

As we celebrate this momentous occasion alongside the Paraguayan people, we are proud of the long history of friendship between our peoples, from the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1861 to our present robust cooperation.  May this spirit of partnership and shared democratic values continue to deepen our historic relationship.

On the Occasion of Eid al-Fitr

13 May

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

I extend my warmest wishes to all Muslims in the United States and around the world celebrating Eid al-Fitr.

On this Eid al-Fitr, we reflect on the values of charity, community, cooperation, and compassion, and, in the face of a global pandemic, we honor the Muslims worldwide who came together to pray and fast with their families, instead of with their larger communities.  These sacrifices have not gone unnoticed and have helped in keeping all communities safe and healthy.  We further recognize the contributions of Muslim frontline workers throughout the tragedy of this pandemic.  Their selflessness is an inspiration to us all.

We also keep in our thoughts those who have experienced hardships and have fled violence, along with those who have helped them on their journey, reminding us all to continue to work locally and globally – not just to save lives – but to restore dignity and understanding for all people, especially during this extraordinary time of need.

I regret very much that I am unable to host an Eid al-Fitr celebration this year due to the pandemic, but I will continue to forge and deepen the strong relationships we enjoy with diverse Muslim communities.  I wish you all a happy Eid al-Fitr.  Eid Mubarak.

Secretary Antony J. Blinken On Release of the 2020 International Religious Freedom Report

12 May

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Washington, D.C.

Press Briefing Room

MR PRICE:  Good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining us today.  I’m very pleased to have the opportunity to introduce Secretary Blinken, who will speak to the Department’s International Religious Freedom Report.  We will then hear from Office of International Religious Freedom senior official Dan Nadel, who will be happy to take your questions on this year’s report.

Without further ado, I will turn it over to Secretary Blinken.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Ned, thank you very much.  Good morning, everyone.  So let me start, first of all, by wishing everyone a good morning, and Eid Mubarak to all who are celebrating.

Before talking about the report, I want to just take a minute to discuss what is happening in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.  We’re deeply concerned about what we’re seeing there.  Images that came out overnight are harrowing and the loss of any civilian life is a tragedy.  I’ve asked Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Hady Amr to go to the region immediately to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.  He will bring to bear his decades of experience and, in particular, he will urge on my behalf and on behalf of President Biden a de-escalation of violence.  We are very focused on this.

The United States remains committed to a two-state solution.  This violence takes us further away from that goal.  We fully support Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself.  We’ve condemned and I condemn again the rocket attacks in the strongest possible terms.  We believe Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live with safety and security and we’ll continue to engage with Israelis, Palestinians, and other regional partners to urge de-escalation and to bring calm.

Now, let me turn back to what brings us together this morning, and that is the report.  Today, the State Department is releasing the 2020 International Religious Freedom Report.  We’ve produced this document every year for 23 years.  It offers a comprehensive review of the state of religious freedom in nearly 200 countries and territories around the world, and it reflects the collective effort of literally hundreds of American diplomats around the world and our Office of International Religious Freedom here in Washington, led by Dan Nadel, and he’ll be taking some questions from you today on the report.

Let me just say a few words about why this report matters.  Religious freedom is a human right; in fact, it goes to the heart of what it means to be human – to think freely, to follow our conscience, to change our beliefs if our hearts and minds lead us to do so, to express those beliefs in public and in private.  This freedom is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  It’s also part of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  Our country’s commitment to defending freedom of religion and belief goes back centuries.  It continues today.

Religious freedom, like every human right, is universal.  All people, everywhere, are entitled to it no matter where they live, what they believe, or what they don’t believe.  Religious freedom is co-equal with other human rights because human rights are indivisible.  Religious freedom is not more or less important than the freedom to speak and assemble, to participate in the political life of one’s country, to live free from torture or slavery, or any other human right.  Indeed, they’re all interdependent.  Religious freedom can’t be fully realized unless other human rights are respected, and when governments violate their people’s right to believe and worship freely, it jeopardizes all the others.  And religious freedom is a key element of an open and stable society.  Without it, people aren’t able to make their fullest contribution to their country’s success.  And whenever human rights are denied, it ignites tension, it breeds division.

As this year’s International Religious Freedom Report indicates, for many people around the world this right is still out of reach.  In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, 56 countries, encompassing a significant majority of the world’s people, have high or severe restrictions on religious freedom.

To name just a few examples from this year’s report, Iran continues to intimidate, harass, and arrest members of minority faith groups, including Baha’i, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Sunni and Sufi Muslims.

In Burma, the military coup leaders are among those responsible for ethnic cleansing and other atrocities against Rohingya, most of whom are Muslim, and other religious and ethnic minorities around the world.

In Russia, authorities continue to harass, detain, and seize property of Jehovah’s Witnesses as well as members of Muslim minority groups on the pretense of alleged extremism.

In Nigeria, courts continue to convict people of blasphemy, sentencing them to long-term imprisonment or even death.  Yet the government has still not brought anyone to justice for the military’s massacre of hundreds of Shia Muslims in 2015.

Saudi Arabia remains the only country in the world without a Christian church, though there are more than a million Christians living in Saudi Arabia.  And authorities continue to jail human rights activists like Raif Badawi, who was sentenced in 2014 to a decade in prison and a thousand lashes for speaking about his beliefs.

And China broadly criminalizes religious expression and continues to commit crimes against humanity and genocide against Muslim Uyghurs and members of other religious and ethnic minority groups.

Today, I’m announcing the designation of Yu Hui, former office director of the so-called Central Leading Group Preventing and Dealing with Heretical Religions, of Chengdu, for his involvement in gross violations of human rights, namely, the arbitrary detention of Falun Gong practitioners.  Yu Hui and his family are now ineligible for entry into the United States.

I could go on; the examples are far too numerous.

More broadly, we’re seeing anti-Semitism on the rise worldwide, including here in the United States as well as across Europe.  It’s a dangerous ideology that history has shown is often linked with violence.  We must vigorously oppose it wherever it occurs.

Anti-Muslim hatred is still widespread in many countries, and this, too, is a serious problem for the United States as well as in Europe.

We have work to do to ensure that people of all faiths and backgrounds are treated with equal dignity and respect.

As this report notes, some countries have taken positive steps forward, and that, too, deserves comment.  Last year, the civilian-led transitional government in Sudan repealed apostasy laws and public order laws that had been used to harass members of religious minority groups.  Uzbekistan’s government has released hundreds of people who have been imprisoned because of their beliefs.  Just this past Saturday, Turkmenistan released 16 Jehovah’s Witnesses who are conscientious objectors and refused to serve in the military.  We understand the authorities will now offer conscientious objectors alternative ways to meet national service requirements.

We want to see more progress like that, and so our promise to the world is that the Biden-Harris administration will protect and defend religious freedom around the world.  We will maintain America’s longstanding leadership on this issue.  We’re grateful for our partners, including likeminded governments, the UN Human Rights Council, and networks like the International Religious Freedom of Belief Alliance and the International Contact Group of Freedom of Religion or Belief.  We’ll continue to work closely with civil society organizations, including human rights advocates and religious communities, to combat all forms of religiously motivated hatred and discrimination around the world.

Thank you very, very much and we look forward to being able to get into the report in more detail.  I’ll take a couple of questions before I take off.

MR PRICE:  Wonderful.  Francesco?

QUESTION:  Thank you, Secretary Blinken.  It’s now clear that your calls for de-escalation haven’t been heard or at least haven’t been enough to stop it until now.  We’re now beyond an escalation.  Why are you just sticking to these calls to de-escalation and restraint?  What can you do further and to prevent a full-out, full-scale war?  And also, have you personally talked or tried to talk to the Palestinian leadership, to President Abbas or others?  And if not, why?  And who on the U.S. side has been in touch with whom on the Palestinian side?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yeah, thank you.  A few things that are I think very important here.  We are deeply engaged across the board – the State Department, the White House, senior officials – with the Israelis, with Palestinians, with other countries and partners in the region to call for and push for de-escalation.  To be very clear, again, we strongly condemn the rocket attacks coming out of Gaza that are targeting innocent Israeli civilians, and Israel has a right to defend itself.  Palestinians have a right to live in safety and security, and the most important thing going forward now is to take down the violence, to de-escalate, and that’s exactly what we’re working toward.

Jake Sullivan, the National Security Advisor, has been engaged with his counterpart; I’ve talked to Foreign Minister Ashkenazi; Wendy Sherman, the deputy secretary of state, has been engaged as well; and as I mentioned just a short while ago, we are sending our senior official responsible for Israeli and Palestinian affairs to the region.  We’ve been engaged with all parties, including the Palestinians, and that will continue.  But the most important thing now is for all sides to cease the violence, to de-escalate, and to try to move to calm.

MR PRICE:  Kylie.

QUESTION:  Thank you for doing this, Secretary.  Beyond engagement and calls for de-escalation, I just want to reiterate:  Is there anything more that the U.S. can do at this point?

And my second question is:  More than 50 people have been killed in Gaza, including more than a dozen children.  So given those casualties, do you think the Israeli response has been proportional?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So first, in terms of what we’re doing, the most important thing that we can do right now is exactly what we’re doing, which is to be engaged across the board and pushing on de-escalation not only with Israelis and Palestinians but also with other partners who are amplifying our voice.  And as I said, we’re sending a senior diplomat to the region to work on this, so that – I think that piece is very important and our voice, our diplomacy from senior officials across the administration, I hope will help have an impact.

There is first a very clear and absolute distinction between a terrorist organization, Hamas, that is indiscriminately raining down rockets – in fact, targeting civilians – and Israel’s response defending itself that is targeting the terrorists who are raining down rockets on Israel.  But whenever we see civilian casualties, and particularly when we see children caught in the crossfire losing their lives, that has a powerful impact.  And I think Israel has an extra burden in trying to do everything it possibly can to avoid civilian casualties, even as it is rightfully responding in defense of its people.  And as I said, the Palestinian people have the right to safety and security, and we have to I think all work in that direction.

So the single most important thing right now is de-escalation.  We will continue to carry that message to our partners and to – in Israel, to the Palestinians, and to partners in the region.  Thanks very much.

MR PRICE:  Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.

Designation of Chinese Communist Party Official Due to Involvement in Gross Violations of Human Rights

12 May

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Today, the Department of State transmitted its 2020 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom to the United States Congress.  This Annual Report provides a detailed and factual account of the status of religious freedom in nearly 200 countries and territories and documents reports of violations and abuses committed by governments, non-state actors, and individuals.  The United States is committed to promoting accountability for those responsible for such abuses.

To that end, today I am announcing the designation of Yu Hui, former Office Director of the so-called “Central Leading Group on Preventing and Dealing with Heretical Religions” of Chengdu, Sichuan Province, pursuant to Section 7031(c) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2021.  He is designated for his involvement in gross violations of human rights, namely the arbitrary detention of Falun Gong practitioners for their spiritual beliefs.  Yu Hui and his immediate family members are ineligible for entry into the United States.

We will continue to consider all appropriate tools to promote accountability for those responsible for human rights violations and abuses in China and elsewhere.

The United States Impedes Hizballah Financing by Sanctioning Seven Individuals

11 May

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

The threat that Hizballah poses to the United States, our allies, and interests in the Middle East and globally, calls for countries around the world to take steps to restrict its activities and disrupt its facilitation networks. We applaud the countries in Europe, and South and Central America that have taken action against Hizballah in recent years and call on other governments around the world to follow suit.

Today, the United States is designating seven individuals involved in financial operations with Hizballah ties to continue impeding the group’s ability to operate in the global financial system. The United States is designating these individuals pursuant to Executive Order 13224, as amended, for acting for or on behalf of Hizballah or Al-Qard al-Hassan (AQAH), which provides cover for Hizballah’s financial activity; both Hizballah and AQAH are already designated under the same authority. While AQAH purports to serve the Lebanese people, in practice it illicitly moves funds through shell accounts and facilitators, exposing Lebanese financial institutions to sanctions risk related to conducting business with a designated entity. Moreover, by hoarding cash that is desperately needed by the Lebanese economy, AQAH empowers Hizballah to build its own support base and compromise the stability of the Lebanese state.

One of the seven individuals designated, Ibrahim Ali Daher, serves as the director of Hizballah’s Central Finance Unit, which oversees the group’s overall budget and spending. The remaining individuals designated used the cover of personal accounts to evade sanctions targeting AQAH and transferred approximately $500 million on behalf of AQAH.

These designations reinforce recent U.S. action against Hizballah financiers who have provided support or services to Hizballah. The United States will continue to take action to disrupt Hizballah’s operations.

For more information about today’s designation, please see the Department of the Treasury’s press release .

Secretary Antony J. Blinken And Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi Before Their Meeting

10 May

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Washington, D.C.

Treaty Room

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good afternoon, everyone. It is very good to welcome my friend, Ayman Safadi, the foreign minister of Jordan, here to the State Department and to Washington. Needless to say, we’re very focused on the situation in Israel, West Bank, Gaza, very deeply concerned about the rocket attacks that we are seeing now that need to stop and need to stop immediately, and also, of course, concerns about the violence, provocative actions in and around the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. That violence needs to cease. All sides need to de-escalate, reduce tensions, take practical steps to calm things down. I appreciate some of the steps we’ve seen in the last – of the last 24 hours, particularly with regard to rerouting the parade and putting off the decision on the evictions, but it’s imperative that all sides take steps to de-escalate and calm the situation. And again, I’m deeply concerned about the rocket attacks. And even as all sides take steps to de-escalate, Israel, of course, has a right to defend its people and its territory from these attacks.

I know that the foreign minister and I will have opportunity to discuss this. We have a lot else on our agenda as well. Jordan knows that President Biden is a long and strong friend of Jordan, and Jordan has been a long and strong friend of the United States – the closest of partners in dealing with the many challenges that we face together in the region, a very valued and trusted advisor as we confront these issues, as well as some of the real opportunities that are out there. So I’m looking forward to a conversation that covers a lot of this territory.

Meanwhile, Ayman, welcome. It’s very good to have you here.

FOREIGN MINISTER SAFADI: Good afternoon. And thank you so much, Mr. Secretary, for your kind words. I’m looking forward to what I know will be extremely instructive and useful conversation between two friends and two allies, particularly at this very, very critical situation. We’re all trying to tackle the extremely dangerous situation in Jerusalem. We’ve repeatedly said in Jordan that Jerusalem is a redline and that maintaining peace and stability in Jerusalem is key. Our focus right now on ensuring that the escalation stops, and for that to happen we do believe that all immediate provocative measures against either the peoples of Sheikh Jarrah or in terms of the violations into al-Haram must stop, status quo needs to be preserved, and the rights of the Palestinians need to be respected so that we calm the situation and create the political horizon that the U.S., Jordan and all of us want to see towards a lasting, comprehensive peace that would address the rights of all peoples on the basis of the two-state solution.

So today, priority is stop the escalation, make sure that international law is respected, rights of Palestinians, rights of worshippers are upheld, status quo is preserved, and move forward with creating that political horizon.

The United States has a leading role to play – it has the leading role to play, in fact, in terms of trying to bring about the peace and stability that we all want. We all believe in peace as strategic choice; nobody is doing anybody a favor by opting for peace. It’s a right for all. We know the formula of the two-state solution is the one that will get us there. And again, we do look forward to the leadership of the United States at this effort, because this is something that is a common objective for all of us.

As the Secretary said, Jordan and the United States have enjoyed a tremendously strong historical partnership. This is a partnership of which we are proud. His Majesty King Abdullah is looking forward to coming here and engaging with the President as well as the rest of the administration on how we can move forward not just in the interests of the goals for our country, but also their interest of peace, stability, prosperity in the region. We are proud of this relationship, and we do look forward to what I know will be extremely useful and important discussions with the Secretary on, again, addressing the challenges and dangerous situation in the West Bank and Jerusalem right now, but also in the rest of the region. We have a lot of good work that we do together – on fighting terrorism to supporting the stability in Iraq, looking for answers to political solutions in the crises in Syria, Libya and Yemen. And again, in all that we’re partners, we seek the same objective, and we’ll continue to be working together.

So again, sir, thank you so much for this wonderful opportunity. On behalf of His Majesty, on behalf of all of us in Jordan, a big thank you to the United States for the tremendous support that it has shown the kingdom historically and in terms of trying to deal with the many challenges that we are facing, unfortunately, in a very troubled part of the world.

Thank you so much.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Thank you all.

Restoring Taiwan’s Appropriate Place at the World Health Assembly

7 May

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Beginning on May 24, the world will gather virtually for the 74th annual World Health Assembly (WHA). The Assembly is the decision-making body of the World Health Organization, and it sets the agenda for strengthening international cooperation to end the COVID-19 pandemic and advancing global health and global health security — issues that affect us all. And yet, unless the Organization’s leadership takes appropriate action, the Assembly will once again exclude the vital participation of Taiwan.

There is no reasonable justification for Taiwan’s continued exclusion from this forum, and the United States calls upon the WHO Director-General to invite Taiwan to participate as an observer at the WHA – as it has in previous years, prior to objections registered by the government of the People’s Republic of China.

Global health and global health security challenges do not respect borders nor recognize political disputes. Taiwan offers valuable contributions and lessons learned from its approach to these issues, and WHO leadership and all responsible nations should recognize that excluding the interests of 24 million people at the WHA serves only to imperil, not advance, our shared global health objectives.

Taiwan is a reliable partner, a vibrant democracy, and a force for good in the world, and its exclusion from the WHA would be detrimental to our collective international efforts to get the pandemic under control and prevent future health crises. We urge Taiwan’s immediate invitation to the World Health Assembly.

Secretary Antony J. Blinken Virtual Remarks at the UN Security Council Open Debate on Multilateralism

7 May

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Washington, D.C.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, good morning, good afternoon, good evening.  Let me start by thanking China and Foreign Minister Wang for initiating this critical discussion on the future of the United Nations and the international order.  And thank you as well to the President of the General Assembly Bozkir for your leadership.

When countries came together after World War II to form the United Nations, virtually all of human history up till then indicated that might made right.  Competition inevitably led to collision.  The rise of a nation or group of nations necessitated the fall of others.

Then our nations united in choosing a different path.  We adopted a set of principles to prevent conflict and alleviate human suffering; to recognize and defend human rights; to foster an ongoing dialogue to uphold and improve a system aimed at benefiting all people.

The most powerful countries bound themselves to these principles.  They agreed to a form of self-restraint – as President Truman put it, to deny themselves the license to do always as they pleased – because they recognized that this would ultimately serve not only humanity’s interests, but their own.  The United States did this, even though it was by far the most powerful nation on Earth at the time.  It was enlightened self-interest.  We believed other nations’ success was critical to ours.  And we didn’t want less powerful countries feeling threatened and obliged to band together against us.

In the years since, we’ve faced daunting challenges, from the divisions of the Cold War, the vestiges of colonialism, and the times the world stood by in the face of mass atrocities.  And today, conflicts, injustice, and suffering around the globe underscore how many of our aspirations remain unfulfilled.

But no period in modern history has been more peaceful or prosperous than the one since the United Nations was created.  We avoided armed conflict between nuclear powers.  We helped millions of people emerge from poverty.  We advanced human rights as never before.

This bold endeavor, whatever its imperfections, has been an unprecedented achievement.  And it’s endured because the overwhelming majority of people and nations continue to see it as representing their interests, their values, their hopes.

But now it’s in serious jeopardy.

Nationalism is resurgent, repression is rising, rivalries among countries are deepening – and attacks against the rules-based order are intensifying.  Now, some question whether multilateral cooperation is still possible.

The United States believes it is not only possible, it is imperative.

Multilateralism is still our best tool for tackling big global challenges – like the one that’s forcing us to gather on a screen today rather than around a table.  The COVID-19 pandemic has changed life as we know it across the planet, with millions of deaths and devastating impacts on economies, health, education, social progress.

The climate crisis is another massive threat.  If we don’t move swiftly to cut emissions, the results will be catastrophic.

We built the multilateral system in part to solve big, complex problems like these, where the fates of people around the world are tied together and where no single country – no matter how powerful – can address the challenges alone.

That’s why the United States will work through multilateral institutions to stop COVID-19 and tackle the climate crisis, and we will abide by the core principles of the international order as we do.

We’ll also work with any country on these issues – including those with whom we have serious differences.  The stakes are too high to let differences stand in the way of our cooperation.  The same holds true for stemming the spread and use of nuclear weapons, delivering life-saving humanitarian assistance, managing deadly conflicts.

At the same time, we will continue to push back forcefully when we see countries undermine the international order, pretend that the rules we’ve all agreed to don’t exist, or simply violate them at will.  Because for the system to deliver, all countries must abide by it and put in the work for its success.

There are three ways we can do that.

First, all members should meet their commitments – particularly the legally binding ones.  That includes the UN Charter, treaties and conventions, UN Security Council resolutions, international humanitarian law, and the rules and standards agreed to under the auspices of the World Trade Organization and numerous international standard-setting organizations.

Let me be clear – the United States is not seeking to uphold this rules-based order to keep other nations down.  The international order we helped build and defend has enabled the rise of some of our fiercest competitors.  Our aim is simply to defend, uphold, and revitalize that order.

Second, human rights and dignity must stay at the core of the international order.  The foundational unit of the United Nations – from the first sentence of the Charter – is not just the nation state.  It’s also the human being.  Some argue that what governments do within their own borders is their own business, and that human rights are subjective values that vary from one society to another.  But the Universal Declaration of Human Rights begins with the word “universal” because our nations agreed there are certain rights to which every person, everywhere, is entitled.  Asserting domestic jurisdiction doesn’t give any state a blank check to enslave, torture, disappear, ethnically cleanse their people, or violate their human rights in any other way.

And this leads me to my third point, which is that the United Nations is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of its member-states.

A state does not respect that principle when it purports to redraw the borders of another; or seeks to resolve territorial disputes by using or threatening force; or when a state claims it’s entitled to a sphere of influence to dictate or coerce the choices and decisions of another country.  And a state shows contempt for that principle when it targets another with disinformation or weaponized corruption, undermines other countries’ free and fair elections and democratic institutions, or goes after journalists or dissidents abroad.

These hostile actions can also threaten the international peace and security that the United Nations Charter obliges this body to maintain.

When UN member-states – particularly permanent members of the Security Council – flout these rules and block attempts to hold accountable those who violate international law, it sends the message that others can break those rules with impunity.

All of us must accept the scrutiny, however difficult, that comes with the commitments we have freely made.  That includes the United States.

I know that some of our actions in recent years have undermined the rules-based order and led others to question whether we are still committed to it.  Rather than take our word for it, we ask the world to judge our commitment by our actions.

Under the Biden-Harris administration, the United States has already re-engaged vigorously in multilateral institutions.  We have rejoined the Paris climate accord, recommitted to the World Health Organization, and we’re seeking to rejoin the Human Rights Council.  We’re engaged in diplomacy to return to mutual compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and to strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation regime.  We are by far the largest contributor to COVAX, the best vehicle for the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, and we’re making tens of millions of doses available to others without political considerations.

We’re also taking steps, with great humility, to address the inequities and injustices in our own democracy.  We do so openly and transparently for people around the world to see, even when it’s ugly, even when it’s painful.  And we will emerge stronger and better for doing so.

Likewise, it’s not enough simply to defend the rules-based order we have now.  We should improve and build upon it.  We need to take into account the change in power dynamics over the past eight decades, not only between countries but within them.  We need to address legitimate grievances – particularly unfair trading practices – that have provoked a backlash against an open international economic order in many countries, including in the United States.  And we must ensure that this order is equipped to address new problems – like national security and human rights concerns raised by new technologies, from cyber attacks to surveillance to discriminatory algorithms.

Finally, we need to modernize the way we build coalitions and who we include in our diplomacy and development efforts.  That means forging non-traditional partnerships across regional lines, bringing together cities, the private sector, foundations, civil society, and social and youth movements.

And we must improve equity within and between our countries and close economic, political, and social gaps that persist based on race, gender, and other parts of our identity that make us who we are.

At the founding of this institution, President Truman said, “This Charter was not the work of any single nation or group of nations, large or small.  It was the result of a spirit of give-and-take, of tolerance for the views and interests of others.”  He said it was proof that nations can state their differences, face them, and find common ground on which to stand.

We continue to have profound differences – among the UN member-states and within this Council.  But the United States will spare no effort to find and stand on that common ground with any country that upholds its commitments to the order we founded together, and which we must defend and revitalize together.

That’s the great test of this moment.  Let’s meet it together.

Thank you.

Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Olena Removska of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

6 May

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Kyiv, Ukraine

Hyatt Regency Hotel

QUESTION:  Secretary Blinken, welcome to Ukraine.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.

QUESTION:  Thank you for your time.  In April, we witnessed a buildup of Russia troops close to Ukraine’s border and even annexed Crimea.  Russia called it snap checks.  What lessons did the United States make from these so-called snap checks?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, I think the number one lesson is the absolute need to remain extremely vigilant against the possibility of reckless actions, aggression from Russia, directed at Ukraine.  You’re exactly right.  This was the largest concentration of Russian forces on Ukraine’s border since 2014, since Russia first invaded.  And so we’re very focused on that.  So are many other countries.  They’ve expressed not only their clear concern but their solidarity with Ukraine in standing against these actions.

Now, we’ve seen some of the forces pull back, but many still remain.  We’ve seen some heavy equipment pulled back, but a lot also remains.  And Russia has the capacity, on pretty short notice, to take further aggressive actions.  So we are being very vigilant about that, watching it very carefully, and also making sure that we’re helping Ukraine have the means to defend itself, defend its sovereignty, defend its territory.

QUESTION:  This situation raised a question in Ukraine society in:  What could Ukraine’s partners do in case of new invasion of Ukraine, yes, from Russia?

So I would ask you, as the representative of the Ukraine strategic partner, what would the United States do in this situation?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, the most important thing to do is what we’re doing, which is to make sure that that doesn’t happen, that Russia does not make a very unfortunate decision to engage in any further aggression or reckless actions when it comes to Ukraine, which is exactly why we have spoken up very clearly when we saw this concentration of forces, why we’ve worked closely with all of our leading partners around the world, including at NATO and the European Union, so that everyone was very focused on this and was making it very clear to Moscow that we were looking and watching very carefully, and that if any action was taken, it would not be without consequences.  And at the same time, we’re working very closely with our partners here in Ukraine, as I said, to make sure that they have the means necessary to defend Ukraine, defend its territory, defend its people.

QUESTION:  Regarding the means, two recent statements made by Ukraine’s top politicians, Ukraine will request air defense system and anti-sniper attacks and U.S. should deploy Patriot missiles in Ukraine.  Is the United States considering any of this?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, we, of course, will look at any and every request.  And the main thing is that our Pentagon, our Defense Department, is the main partner for Ukraine.  And it is, as we speak, looking at what additional assistance, beyond the very significant assistance that we’ve already provided, including equipment, would be helpful to Ukraine right now.  That’s a very active consideration.

QUESTION:  Considering the fact that the threat is still there – yeah, you mentioned that there are still Russian troops in the annexed Crimea and close to Ukraine’s borders – does the United States consider an option of excluding Russia from SWIFT payment system?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I don’t want to get into hypothetical questions about what we might do in the future.  Let me just say simply that when it comes to trying to deter aggression or respond, we will consider every reasonable option.  Because as I said, we’re determined that this not – that there will – that it’s clear that there would be consequences in different areas.

But let me also say this, because it’s important:  We would prefer a more stable, predictable relationship with Russia and, indeed, President Biden has made that clear to President Putin.  But just as important – and we’ve been very clear about this – if Russia takes, continues to take reckless or aggressive actions, whether it’s with regard to Ukraine or anywhere else where our interests or our partners are being challenged, we will respond, not for purposes of escalating, not for purposes of seeking a conflict, but because these kinds of actions cannot go unanswered.  They cannot happen with impunity.  And so I think it’s very clear that there would be consequences.

But my sincere hope is that Russia understands that our preference would be for a more stable, predictable relationship, but ultimately that is up to Russia, by its actions or non-actions.

QUESTION:  Russian President Vladimir Putin in his recent address warned the West regarding – warned from crossing redlines.  Are there any uncrossable redlines for the United States towards Russia?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We don’t speak in terms of redlines.  It’s – what is clear is this, and this goes back to 2014 in many ways:  There are two things at stake when it comes to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.  First and most important, what’s at stake are the rights of the Ukrainian people and their sovereignty, the integrity of their territory, their democracy.

But what’s also at stake are some very important larger principles that actually have effect well beyond Ukraine, and those principles include that the notion of having a sphere of influence is a concept that was – should have been retired after World War II.  We don’t accept the principle of spheres of influence.  The principle that another country cannot simply change the borders of its democratic neighbor by force; the principle that another country does not have the right to tell a country what its policy should be, with whom it can associate.  Those are principles that are at play here in Ukraine by Russia’s actions.  But they’re also relevant to many other parts of the world.  And if we allow those principles to be violated with impunity, then that is going to send a message not just to Russia; it’s going to send a message in other parts of the world as well that those – the rules don’t matter, that countries can behave any way they want, that might makes right.  That is a recipe for an international system that falls apart.  That is a recipe not for cooperation, but for conflict.  And it’s a very bad recipe that we are determined to stand against.

QUESTION:  We at Radio Liberty are also under pressure in Russia.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yes.

QUESTION:  Our Moscow bureau is almost at the edge of being closed because of this foreign agent law in Russia.  You already expressed concern on this regard, but how do you think is there a real chance to influence the situation?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We just had – as you know, I’m sure – World Press Freedom Day.  And we spent some time talking to journalists from around the world who are operating in countries where they are under – they’re under threat.  Their rights to practice journalism, to do so safely and openly, are being challenged by many different countries.  And unfortunately, we see that of course in Russia and we see that directly with regard to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

And what I can tell you is that the United States stands strongly with independent journalism.  It is the foundation of any democratic system, holding leaders accountable, informing people, informing citizens.  It’s very, very basic.  And I think that countries that don’t do that, that deny freedom of the press are countries that don’t have a lot of confidence in themselves or in their systems.  What is to be afraid of in informing the people and in holding leaders accountable?

So we’re going to stand – everywhere journalism and freedom of the press is challenged, we will stand with journalists and with that freedom.  And by the way, I’m on the receiving end sometimes of reports and commentary and articles that I may not appreciate in the moment.  But I will do everything I possibly can to stand up for the right of journalists to do their jobs, because the job that you do is profoundly important to the lives of our citizens.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  One last question:  Approximately 100 Ukrainian citizens are now in jail in Russia.  I mean, those people in Ukraine considered to be political prisoners; most of them are Crimeans, and one of these Crimeans, Oleksiy Bessarabov, yesterday addressed personally to you.  He’s now in jail in Russia, but he asked you and the management of the United States to influence somehow the process of the release of political prisoners, Ukrainians in Russia.  Do the United States have any opportunity to do this?  Because there were no exchange between Ukraine and Russia since last spring.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  As a general matter, we are very concerned about the practice that some governments engage in of arbitrarily detaining the citizens of other countries, holding them hostage, or having political prisoners.  And this is something that we’re working with many other countries around the world to take a stronger stand against.  At the same time, if we have opportunities to engage another government on people that it’s holding illegally, we will certainly do that.  So if there’s an opportunity, we’ll take it.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  Thank you for your time.

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

Secretary Antony J. Blinken Virtual Remarks to Embassy Kyiv Staff

6 May

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Kyiv, Ukraine

America House

MS KVIEN:  So it is my absolute pleasure and honor to welcome Secretary of State Tony Blinken to Kyiv today, and I’m really happy that he has taken the time to meet with all of us.  As many of you know – especially our local staff, I would say, who have been doing this a long time – Secretary Blinken knows Ukraine very well.  He’s visited many times in his years with the White House, the State Department, and on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  The Secretary’s visit today is extremely important as Ukraine faces threats both from Russia and internal challenges to reform.

It’s been a tough year for Mission Ukraine, as it has been for posts around the world, so I sincerely thank Secretary Blinken for his visit, which is an important signal to Embassy Kyiv that the department is behind us but also equally important demonstration of U.S. support to Ukraine as it faces its external and internal challenges.

So without further ado, I’ll hand over the floor to Secretary Blinken.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, Kristina, thank you very, very much, and everyone, it’s so great to be in Kyiv.  It’s so great to be with you.  It’s a little strange that I’m in Kyiv but we’re not actually – and you are, too, but we’re not in the same room.  So we’re getting one step closer, and I hope next time I’m here we’ll actually be able to get together in person.  But I really am thankful for the fact we have a chance to talk a little bit today.

I really want to start with a word of profound thanks, Kristina, to you for your incredible leadership of this mission at what is, for a whole variety of reasons, a challenging time.  To you, to the Acting Deputy Chief of Mission Joe Pennington, thank you, thank you, thank you.  We’re really grateful for everything you’re doing every day.

And I also want to thank the entire team that worked on this trip.  As Kristina said, we have packed a lot into this day, so much so that I’ve managed to make us a little bit late.  But very well worth it, and we’ve touched a lot of bases that I think reflects the fact that we have so many different things going on here.  And I was really happy to have a chance to spend some time with civil society leaders and people on the front lines of fighting corruption, as well as, of course, a lot of our government counterparts, leaders of the Rada, and a chance to visit Saint Michael’s as well.

So we got a lot done, but I know how much these visits, even of short duration, demand of the embassy team and community, so I’m really thankful to all of you who worked on the visit.  I’m not sure what a wheels-up party looks like in the age of COVID, but I wish you a good one, however you choose to celebrate it.

This is a very important relationship for us and something that we’ve invested in, as you know, over many years – a relationship that President Biden is deeply and personally committed to.  And he asked me to try to get to Ukraine as early as I could in my tenure on his behalf to send a clear message on two fronts: one, that we stand strongly with Ukraine when it comes to defending its sovereignty, its territorial integrity, its independence; and equally, we stand with Ukraine and strongly encourage its efforts to advance reforms, to fight corruption, and to build a strong democracy.  And as Kristina alluded to, I think we’ve got flip sides of the same coin that we’re – we have to be focused on: the external aggression coming from Russia; the internal aggression coming from the forces of corruption – oligarchs and others – who are challenging Ukraine’s democracy from the inside, which, in turn, Russia uses itself to advance its own interests.

So that’s just one fundamental, central piece of what we’re doing.  There is much, much more that’s reflected in the fact that we have so many different agencies represented here as part of the team – Energy, Justice, Defense, Agriculture, Commerce, and others.  And of course – and I hope we can do even more of this, especially when we get beyond COVID – really strong people-to-people ties, something I believe strongly in.  I hope that we can do even more with our exchange programs when we’re given the opportunity.

But each and every one of you on this call are the ones keeping the relationship going day in, day out.  And to the charge’s point, I know that the past couple of years have been particularly difficult.  Even before COVID, Ukraine and this mission were pulled into matters that should not have been the case, and one thing that’s very important is that politics stops at the C Street door, and that’s very much the case now.  And of course, COVID itself, and I have some sense of how tough that’s been here in particular.  I am told that quite a number of you actually got sick, some of you lost loved ones, we lost a locally employed staff member.  And even for those who weren’t directly affected by the illness itself, we know that what it’s done to our work lives and the challenges it’s placed on getting the job done have been almost unprecedented.

So somehow, with lockdowns in Kyiv itself, multiple waves of the virus, you’ve managed to keep the mission going through all of that with determination, with resilience.  And you’ve helped a number of our fellow citizens here in Ukraine navigate – excuse me – what has been a very, very frightening time for them as well.  So whether you’re a direct hire, whether you’re locally employed, whether you’re a family member, whatever section you work in, and whether you work for State or one of our fellow agencies, I’m deeply, deeply appreciative of everything you’ve been doing, everything you are doing.  And simply put, you’re playing an indispensable role in advancing our interests and telling our story to the world in this place that gets a lot of attention.

One more thing I want to say before opening it up and hearing from some of you.  Back in January when I first had the privilege of taking this job and getting into the office, the very first thing I said in coming into C Street was that we have work to do as a department to rebuild trust and morale, to do a better job listening to the people of the department, the men and women of the Foreign Service, the Civil Service, when we’re formulating our policies, investing in diversity and inclusion, building a workplace that looks like the country we represent and that has a real culture of collegiality, of teamwork, and of mutual respect.  And that has to start with my office, but it involves each and every one of us.

And this is something I’ve repeated every time I’ve had an opportunity to talk to our teams in different parts of the world, because, again, it doesn’t only apply to Main State.  It applies to all of us, to all of our missions, to all of our colleagues in embassies and consulates around the world.  It’s a – I know it sounds like a hackneyed or even cliched thing, but we actually are part of a community and we each have a responsibility to build the best possible community where everyone is valued, welcomed, and feels part of the same mission.

And so I am deeply committed to doing everything I can to support you in your work, because you’re supporting the country every single day, and that’s what I owe you.  That’s what we owe you.

So again, thank you, thank you, thank you for what you’re doing every day.  Now let’s open it up to some questions.