Secretary Antony J. Blinken At a Meet and Greet for Embassy Staff

20 Apr

Panama City, Panama

U.S. Embassy Panama City

MR TUTTLE:  Well, good afternoon, everybody.  What a fantastic turnout from Mission Panama.  Really delighted.  Give yourself some applause.  (Applause.)  Now, I know that ever since President Biden was inaugurated, there’s been a lot of buzz at this embassy about when the Secretary of State would be visiting, and it’s obviously with tremendous pleasure that I can – obviously I don’t need to surprise you.  He’s right here next to me, right?  (Laughter.)

So I mean – and I think what’s important to note – we all know what’s going on in the world today, right?  There’s a lot of crises, a lot of issues we’re dealing with, some of monumental importance.  The fact that Secretary Blinken has chosen to be here today in Panama with us – along with, not by coincidence, Secretary of Homeland Security Mayorkas as well – is an indication of not only the strength of our bilateral relationship with Panama but also the importance of the issues that they are here to address.

So Secretary Blinken became the 71st Secretary of State on January 26th of 2021, but he was obviously a familiar face to many of us in the department, having been the deputy secretary for a number of years during President Obama’s second term; prior to that, the deputy national security advisor; and in President Obama’s first term, the national security advisor to then-Vice President Joe Biden.  That was a relationship that had continued on from their time at the Senate, where the Secretary was the Democratic staff director at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a committee that then-Senator Biden served on for many years and which he chaired for quite a time while they were there together.

So, Mr. Secretary, I couldn’t help but notice that when I was looking at your bio, we both had our first experience in the State Department in the 1990s in the same year.  Now, I know what you’re all thinking – his career has progressed a little faster than mine.  (Laughter.)  But I’m a magnanimous guy, so no hard feelings, right?  In fact, Secretary Blinken has a soft spot in my heart, because in your very first virtual meeting with all the chiefs of mission of the Western Hemisphere, I made a comment that I was hoping would be taken as humorous, and the Secretary actually chuckled.  He did, right?  (Laughter.)  Now, just letting you know that you had me at a smirk, but thanks for going above and beyond the call.

So with that, hey, let me turn the microphone over to the man you’re here to see, Secretary of State Tony Blinken.  (Applause.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, thank you all very, very much.  It is great to be here with Mission Panama.  Wow, and greetings all the way up there.  (Laughter.)  So I hadn’t realized that we started at the same time, but look, in fairness, the office that I started in was on the sixth floor of the State Department, in the front office of what was then called the European and Canadian Affairs Bureau.  And if you go there now you can still see – I think they’ve changed it a little bit, but the previous occupant of that office, Stewart – the one right before me – was a large safe, which gives you some idea of what the office was like.  (Laughter.)  And as I say, basically over the course of about 30 years I managed to move up one flight of stairs and get some windows.  (Laughter.)  So I’ll take that.

But to Stewart’s point – and first let me start by thanking you so much for your leadership here at what really is a critical time.  And the fact that we’re here is evidence that not only is this partnership important, it’s increasingly vital.  We have – and we talked about this with the president today and the foreign minister.  We’re at a time of challenge, where democracies are being challenged, and having a strong beacon of democracy here in Panama makes a big difference at this time.

We’re, of course, facing an incredible challenge when it comes to irregular migration not just in our own hemisphere but quite literally around the world.  There are now more people on the move around the world, displaced from their homes, than at any time since World War II.  And we’re feeling that here in our hemisphere.  Panama has really stepped up in a big way to be a leader in making sure that we see this as a shared responsibility, which is really the focus of our trip here today.

But mostly I wanted to come by to say thank you to each and every one of you for the incredible service that you’re performing.  I have a couple things I want to say about that, but let me just give some thanks.  I caught the tail end of the dancers and percussionists.  Really remarkable; thank you so much for that.  And I am especially glad to see that we have obviously some first and second-tour members of the team here.  (Laughter.)  And I’m looking forward to talking to you guys when we get a chance.

But one of the things that’s really remarkable here is – we talk a lot about interagency collaboration back home.  This is the model of it.  By our count, there are 42 agencies represented here, everything from Ag to DOD to DOJ to Treasury, and so on down the line.  To each and every one of you, if you’re here from one of our partner agencies, thank you for the remarkable collaboration.  We can’t do what we do without that partnership, and this is really a model for the way that’s supposed to work.

You’ve been getting out and about despite the challenges of COVID.  I know there’s been an Embassy on the Road program, visiting provinces west of Panama City – should I – actually, here, I’ll hold it.  There we go, thank you.  Sorry about that.

Meeting community, business leaders; folks from all walks of life; visiting schools, touring farms, reaching diverse populations.  And that kind of outreach is vital, and I’m glad you’re doing it.

I’m also incredibly glad to know that the Peace Corps is on its way back, volunteers coming back in July after the COVID-19 pause.  So Peace Corps, welcome back to Panama.

And then, of course, we have a remarkable security partnership here with our partners.  Together you are doing, we are doing, search and rescue missions, stopping illegal fishing, fighting drug trafficking.  All of that happening out of this embassy.

But what I really wanted to focus on just for a minute is the culture of this mission and what each and every one of you is bringing to it.  We’ve all been through, and you’ve been through, an incredibly challenging time with COVID-19 over the last couple of years, and I know that’s had a profound effect on people’s professional lives, in many cases on your personal lives.  Some of you have lost family members, loved ones, gotten sick, and you’ve had to do your jobs in a different way, a much more difficult way, and yet you kept doing it.  And you’ve also kept the spirit alive, and that’s so important, making sure that you had each other’s backs as we worked through COVID.  And I know that everything from virtual cooking classes to virtual bingo – it sounds funny, but it really is a powerful way of keeping people connected when they were forced to part, so thank you for doing that.

And I’m grateful as well to all of you for engaging in service, service to this country and this community.  The Green Team with beach clean-ups, embassy volunteers working with local schools.  The last event, I am told, had some 200 volunteers.  That’s a powerful bit of diplomacy, too.  It really shows us connecting with our Panamanian friends and addressing issues that actually have an immediate impact on their lives as well.  So I’m thankful for it.

And then I was told that you had your own special version of the Winter Olympics.  (Laughter.)  So interesting events that I had not realized were normally part of the Winter Olympics.  Dodgeball.  (Laughter.)  Trivia – a lot of training has to go into that.  (Laughter.)  Musical chairs for section leaders.  (Laughter.)  And then my personal favorite, a sack race in the diplomatic pouch.  (Laughter.)  Now that is a very good use of the diplomatic pouch.  (Laughter.)

But in all of these ways, and everything you’ve done, spring garden parties.  By the way, I heard that there was a lamb that made a repeated escape from this, showing that the lamb understands that one of our most sacred values is freedom.  (Laughter.)

But in all these ways big and small, this is how you build, this is how you keep a community together, especially during challenging times.  And to you, Stewart, to the entire team here, to the acting DCM, everyone – thank you for coming together and for pulling together.

Finally, wherever I go there are two groups of people that I especially want to give a special shout-out to.  The first – and I saw some of our colleagues as we were coming in – are Marines.  Every embassy that you go to, no matter where it is in the world, the very first person you’re likely to see walking into an embassy is a Marine.  We can’t do our jobs without them doing their jobs.  This partnership is something that’s truly sacred to our institution.  And to our Marine brothers and sisters, we are grateful for you every single day.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

And second – and all of you who are Americans here know this so very well – the lifeblood of any embassy everywhere in the world is our locally engaged staff.  And I know that there are a number of you here.  I want to say thank you to you for what you do every single day to bring our countries closer together.  And there are a few people I just want to mention by name because this is really extraordinary.

Roberto Ortiz.  I don’t know if Roberto is here.  Forty years of service.  So Roberto, thank you.  (Cheers and applause.)

Mirtha Arhona.  I don’t know if Mirtha is here.  Right there.  Thank you.  (Cheers and applause.)  It can’t possibly be right.  It – this can’t be – it can’t be right.  It says 50 years of service.  Is that possible?  That can’t be right.  (Laughter.)

And then I have here Mabel Camarena.  Mabel, are you here anywhere?  (Cheers and applause.) Back there.  So is this even possible – 52 years of service?  Thank you, thank you, thank you.  (Applause.)

But whatever your contribution, whether you’re a direct hire, whether you are Foreign Service, Civil Service, a contractor, locally employed staff, whether you’re here from any of our fellow agencies and departments, thank you for all that you’re doing.  Thank you for all that you’re doing for your country.  Thank you for all that you’re doing for this partnership.  I am grateful for it every single day.  And I know that a lot of work goes into these visits, even one that’s relatively short.  So to anyone who took part, thank you for doing it, thank you for bringing us here, thank you for the incredible support, and have a great wheels-up party tomorrow.  (Laughter.)

Thank you.  (Applause.)

Zimbabwe National Day

18 Apr

On behalf of the United States of America, I congratulate the people of Zimbabwe as you celebrate the 42nd anniversary of your country’s independence.

The United States stands with all Zimbabweans who desire a more just, equitable, prosperous, and healthy future.  We continue to support your efforts to achieve a more democratic society and build an enduring respect for human rights.  We are proud to provide assistance to help Zimbabweans live longer and healthier lives, including in the long-standing struggle to combat HIV/AIDS and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

As you pause to celebrate your independence, please know that our friendship with the Zimbabwean people endures.  We are confident that the fruits of democracy and economic opportunity are possible, and we will continue to support those aims.

Deputy Secretary Sherman’s Travel to Turkey, Spain, Morocco, Algeria, and Egypt

3 Mar

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman will travel to Istanbul and Ankara, Turkey; Madrid, Spain; Rabat and Casablanca, Morocco; Algiers, Algeria; and Cairo, Egypt from March 4 to 11.

Deputy Secretary Sherman will begin her trip in Istanbul and Ankara, Turkey from March 4 to 5 to meet with Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal and other officials to discuss Putin’s premeditated, unprovoked, and unjustified invasion of Ukraine. The Deputy’s meetings will include discussions on further joint U.S.-Turkey cooperation and our shared interest in supporting Ukraine.

Deputy Secretary Sherman will then travel to Madrid, Spain from March 6 to 8 to co-open the U.S.-Spain Cybersecurity Dialogue on March 7 with Spanish Secretary of State for Foreign and Global Affairs Ángeles Moreno Bau. The Deputy Secretary and the State Secretary will also meet bilaterally to discuss a range of issues and challenges including Russia’s attack against Ukraine, our coordinated response, and the strong transatlantic partnership. The Deputy Secretary will also speak with students and faculty at a Madrid-based university and participate in a discussion with women entrepreneurs.

The Deputy Secretary will then travel to Rabat and Casablanca, Morocco from March 8 to 9, where she will lead the U.S. delegation to the U.S.-Morocco Strategic Dialogue on Regional Political Issues. She will have a working lunch with Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita and meet with other senior government officials. She will also deliver keynote remarks at an International Women’s Day event featuring entrepreneurs and businesswomen and will meet with Moroccan youth.

Next, Deputy Secretary Sherman will travel to Algiers, Algeria from March 9 to 10. She will meet with President Abdelmadjid Tebboune to discuss bilateral and regional issues. On March 10, the Deputy Secretary will meet with Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra and lead the U.S. delegation for the fifth U.S.-Algerian Strategic Dialogue. The Deputy Secretary will also meet with high school and college women participating in a U.S.-sponsored STEM program and local representatives of U.S. businesses.

Finally, from March 10 to 11, Deputy Secretary Sherman will travel to Cairo, Egypt, where she will meet with Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and other senior Egyptian officials. The Deputy will also meet with the head of the National Council of Human Rights Moushira Khattab, host a discussion with Egyptian human rights advocates, and meet with Egyptian youth.

Deputy Secretary Sherman’s Call with Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Mori

16 Feb

The below is attributable to Spokesperson Ned Price:

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman spoke today with Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Mori Takeo.  Deputy Secretary Sherman reiterated unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and discussed efforts, including the February 14 G7 Finance Ministers’ statement on readiness to move swiftly and decisively to support the Ukrainian economy, to deter Russia from further military action or other aggressive acts, while remaining committed to diplomacy.  Deputy Secretary Sherman and Vice Foreign Minister Mori emphasized the importance of the U.S.-Japan Alliance to the security and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region and the world.  The Deputy Secretary and Vice Foreign Minister discussed U.S.-Japan economic cooperation, including the new Economic Policy Consultative Committee announced by President Biden and Prime Minister Kishida on January 21.  Deputy Secretary Sherman and Vice Foreign Minister Mori affirmed the importance of global cooperation to end the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide.  The two officials reaffirmed the importance of continued U.S.-Japan cooperation in making progress toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.  The Deputy Secretary and Vice Foreign Minister discussed the destabilizing nature of the DPRK’s recent ballistic missile launches.  Deputy Secretary Sherman highlighted U.S. preparedness to meet the DPRK without preconditions and called for the DPRK to engage in serious and sustained diplomacy.  She also emphasized the importance of trilateral U.S.-Japan-ROK cooperation on the DPRK, as well as in addressing many shared priorities in the Indo-Pacific region.

Secretary Antony J. Blinken Joint Press Availability with Republic of Korea Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong and Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa

13 Feb

Honolulu, Hawaii

Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good afternoon, everyone.  I am very grateful to my colleagues, Foreign Ministers Hayashi and Chung, for a very productive set of meetings today.  And it’s good to be not just with colleagues, but with friends.  (Inaudible.)

For decades, the United States’ alliances with Japan and the Republic of Korea have been among our most important not only in the Indo-Pacific, but around the world.  They’re rooted in an ironclad security relationship, America’s steadfast commitment to defend both allies, in our deep and growing economic and trade ties, and in the abiding bonds between our people.

But we increasingly recognize that if we’re going to meet the complex challenges of our time – and take full advantage of the opportunities for our people – the Republic of Korea, Japan, and the United States must do more together.  We have to learn to do trilaterally what’s become natural to do bilaterally.

That takes intense engagement, which is exactly what we’ve been pursuing.  The result is unprecedented cooperation among us, as evidenced by the substance of today’s meeting.  The U.S. is also committed to helping our partners work through challenges in their relations, which is manifestly in the collective interest of the region and of the people in all three of our countries.

The last time I was here at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center was in 2016, with the Vice President at the time, Joe Biden.  We were here for a trilateral meeting with the Republic of Korea and Japan.  And as the then Vice President said at that meeting, “We’re making trilateral engagements between our countries a habit…and good habits form good relationships.”

That’s why we’ve held three trilateral ministerial meetings in the last year.  We’re also making it a habit to work together across our governments – at every level – including when Deputy Secretary Sherman hosted her trilateral counterparts in November, and she will continue to carry that process forward.

It’s also essential to delivering on our strategy for a free and open Indo-Pacific, which we released yesterday.  That strategy reflects the fundamental truth that, more any other part of the world, what happens in this region is going to shape the lives of Americans and people around the world in this 21st century.  The strategy sets out several concrete ways that we’ll work to turn this vision into reality – benchmarks that we can hold ourselves to over the next couple of years.  Strengthening trilateral cooperation among Korea, Japan, and the United States is one of those benchmarks.  It’s indispensable to virtually everything we want to do in the region.  So, as with my entire trip, we’re not just talking about focusing on the Indo-Pacific; we’re actually doing it.

And that’s what we did in today’s trilateral meeting, across a range of important issues, reflected in the joint statement that we will issue.

We discussed ways to deepen our trilateral efforts to end the COVID-19 pandemic, from boosting vaccine manufacturing and improving distribution, to increasing financing for global health security, so that we can detect and prevent the next pandemic.  The Republic of Korea and Japan will play key roles in a meeting that I’ll convene on Monday to set out a new Global Action Plan, which will drive greater coordination and urgency in our shared push to end the pandemic.

We explored ways that we can work together to meet the ambitious targets that each of our countries set when it comes to tackling climate change, and how we can team up to help other countries meet their goals.  That includes coordinating our investments in sustainable infrastructure and in building resilience to the inevitable changes that come from climate change.

And we focused on ways we can strengthen our economic security, which is increasingly interconnected.  That means shoring up vulnerabilities in our supply chains that have been exposed by the pandemic – from semiconductors to critical minerals – which will also make us less reliant on suppliers who violate human rights or flout environmental standards.  This, also, is much easier to do with three advanced economies than two or one.

Our economic security also depends on upholding the rules of the road that have enabled decades of unprecedented security for our people and prosperity across the region and around the world.  This includes ensuring that our workers and businesses can compete on a fair and level playing field, and protecting freedom of navigation and overflight, including in the South and East China Seas.

And it includes working together to shape new norms and standards that align with our values and interests, such as in emerging technologies, which are driving big sectors of our intertwined economies and touch on virtually every aspect of the lives of our people.

Finally, we discussed how to advance our shared goal of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and finding lasting peace there.  We condemn the DPRK’s recent ballistic missile launches and its unlawful nuclear and ballistic programs, which are clear violations of UN Security Council resolutions. And we continue to work to find ways to hold the DPRK accountable, as we did by imposing sanctions on eight DPRK-linked individuals and entities last month.

Together with our respective special representatives on this topic – Ambassador Sung Kim, who is here, Special Representative Noh, Director General Funakoshi – we discussed ways that we can deepen trilateral cooperation to deter the DPRK, limit the reach of its most dangerous weapons, defend against its provocations or use of force, and above all, keep the American, Japanese, and Korean people safe, which is our highest responsibility.

I want to underscore, we have no hostile intent toward the DPRK.  We remain open to dialogue without preconditions, if Pyongyang chooses that path.

Before I turn to my colleagues, and with their indulgence, let me give a brief update on the crisis in Ukraine, which we also discussed at some length in today’s meetings.

I spoke by phone last night with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, where I raised our serious concerns that Moscow may be considering launching a military attack against Ukraine in the coming days.  I made clear, as President Biden did today in his conversation with President Putin, that a diplomatic path to resolving this crisis – a crisis created by the unprovoked massing of Russian forces all around Ukraine – that diplomatic path remains open.

The way for Moscow to show that it wants to pursue that path is simple: it should de-escalate, rather than escalate.  And it should not only talk about seeking a diplomatic outcome, but actually work toward one.  On our call, Foreign Minister Lavrov said that the Russians are working on a response to the paper that we sent to Moscow more than two weeks ago proposing concrete areas for discussion.  It remains to be seen if they’ll follow through on that.  But if they do, we’ll be ready to engage, together with our allies and partners.

I also underscored that if Moscow chooses the path of aggression and further invades Ukraine, the response from the United States and our allies and partners will be swift, it will be united, it will be severe.

Yesterday, we ordered the departure of most of the Americans still at the U.S. embassy in Kyiv.  The risk of Russian military action is high enough, and the threat is imminent enough, that this is the prudent thing to do.  No one should be surprised if Russia instigates a provocation or incident, which it then uses to justify military action it had planned all along.

A core team will remain in Ukraine with our dedicated Ukrainian colleagues as we continue to work relentlessly to resolve this crisis through deterrence and diplomacy.   Our security assistance to Ukraine – as well as aid for other sectors like public health, economic development – all of that will continue.

In the meeting that the three of us had, we discussed the threat that Russia’s aggression poses – not only to Ukraine, but to the entire international rules-based order, which has provided a foundation for decades of shared security and prosperity, for our people here in this region and, again, around the globe.

When one country seeks to flout the sovereignty and territorial integrity of another, when it seeks to change the borders of another by force, when it seeks to dictate to that country its choices, its policies, with whom it may associate; when it seeks to exert a sphere of influence to subjugate a neighbor to its will, that is profoundly corrosive and undermining of these very rules and norms that undermine – underscore our own security, and again, not just in Europe but around the world.  And if we allow that to go unchallenged, if we allow it to proceed with impunity, then we open a Pandora’s box – again, not just in Europe but around the world.  And that’s why we agreed to stick together in our response to Russia no matter which path it chooses.

Times like these are the reason that we’ve invested decades in building America’s unmatched set of alliances and partnerships.  They underscore why the work our three countries are doing here today is so crucial: so that we can meet this challenge, and others to come, from a position of unity, solidarity, and strength.

With that, let me turn it over to Foreign Minister Chung.

FOREIGN MINISTER CHUNG:  (Via interpreter)  Thank you.  This U.S-Japan-Republic of Korea trilateral ministerial meeting has been convened successfully.  I extend my sincere appreciation to Secretary Blinken and the Government of the United States.  The meeting was indeed highly timely, constructive, and informative.  We have engaged in informative exchange of information amongst ourselves.  We welcome the Biden administration’s commitment to the value of alliances and its willingness to proactively engage in the Indo-Pacific and through the strengthening of the ROK-U.S. alliance and trilateral coordination among Korea, the U.S., and Japan. We are determined to continue working in concert.

Today, we addressed a top priority of our three countries, issues of the DPRK and its nuclear program, through in-depth discussion.  And at the same time, major regional and global pending issues were also covered during our highly fruitful conversation.  We reaffirmed our shared goals of achieving complete denuclearization and establishment of lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula through dialogue and diplomacy, and we reached consensus in three aspects.

First, we expressed concern over the DPRK’s recent series of missile launches and other actions that heightened tensions in the region, resolving to prevent the situation on the Korean Peninsula from deteriorating further by making proactive endeavors.

We reaffirmed that diplomacy and dialogue with the North is of greater importance than ever, and to bring forward engagement with Pyongyang we exchanged views on a variety of realistic measures.  Thus far, the Biden administration has confirmed that it held no hostile intent towards the DPRK, emphasizing its openness to meeting their country without any preconditions anywhere, anytime, on numerous occasions.  I call on the DPRK to reciprocate and promptly return to dialogue and diplomacy.

Third, going forward as well our three countries agreed to engage in active communication at various levels and closely coordinate on issues on the Korean Peninsula.  We have reaffirmed that regional and international peace, stability, and prosperity are our common interests and goals, and resolved also to step up our cooperation going further.

We are greatly concerned about violence and human rights infringement in Myanmar and to restore democracy and improve the human rights situation therein concurrent to work together with ASEAN and the international community.

On the situation in Ukraine as well, we shared our deep concern.  Through diplomacy and dialogue, Ukraine’s peace and stability should be re-established as early as possible, a position we reaffirmed.

Cooperation among Korea, the United States, and Japan ranges from ensuring stable global supply chains including for critical minerals and promoting other mutually beneficial, future-oriented, and practical cooperation to addressing global challenges such as economic and security cooperation, and its scope continues to expand.

We share democracy, human rights, market economy, and other core values as likeminded countries, and as such agree to continue to our cooperation for global peace and prosperity. Notably, to address COVID-19 and the immediate challenge facing the entire humanity, we’re actively and making endeavors in this regard and supporting U.S. initiative for the COVID-19 Global Action Plan.

Today, we reaffirmed importance and usefulness of trilateral cooperation among Korea, the U.S., and Japan.  As we move forward, we’ll be getting together often on various occasions, including multilateral meetings, to continue our strategic communication and coordination.  Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER HAYASHI:  (Via interpreter) Thank you very much.  I just concluded Japan-U.S.-ROK foreign ministers meeting with Secretary Blinken and Minister Chung.  We had a very fruitful discussion, and I would like to thank Secretary Blinken once again for the wonderful hospitality.

To begin with, regarding North Korea, we shared serious concerns over North Korea’s recent and repeated launches of ballistic missiles, including the latest launch of IRBM class ballistic missile on January 30th.  Based on the shared understanding that North Korea’s nuclear and missile activities pose a threat to the peace and stability of the region and the international community, we aligned our recognition on future measures.

Firstly, we concurred to further strengthen regional deterrence.  While the Japan-U.S. alliance as well as U.S.-ROK alliance each play an important role in this regard, we concurred on advancing security cooperation among Japan, U.S., and the ROK.

Second, we agreed on the importance of fully implementing United Nations Security Council resolutions and concurred to coordinate even more closely on future responses by the Security Council.

Thirdly, we shared the recognition that even in such a situation diplomatic efforts are important and we agreed to deepen the discussion among Japan, U.S., and ROK.  In this vein, Prime Minister Kishida had repeatedly expressed his determination to meet with Chairman Kim Jong-un face to face.

I also asked for continued understanding and cooperation from the two ministers on abductions issue, and to which they expressed their strong support.

We also had a candid discussion on the regional affairs with the recognition about the collaboration among Japan, U.S., and the ROK is of strategic importance beyond North Korean related issue.  In this context, I once again welcomed the Indo-Pacific strategy that the U.S. announced yesterday.  We also affirmed to expand cooperation and collaboration for the peace and stability of the region with our shared concern about activities that undermine the rules-based international order and concurred that we strongly oppose any unilateral actions that seek to alter the status quo and increase tensions in the region.  We are strongly opposed to unilateral action that seeks to alter status quo.

We also exchanged our views – furthermore, we also discussed global issues such as climate change and COVID-19 and other global health issues now pressing challenge for international community.  We concurred on the continued cooperation among Japan, U.S. and ROK in dealing with such challenges.

Lastly, we agreed to further enhance the collaboration among Japan, U.S., and ROK at multiple levels.  Based on today’s discussion as well as joint statement we issued, I would like to work even more closely with you as and ROK for the peace, stability, and prosperity of the region and the international community, including dealing with North Korea.  Thank you.

MR PRICE:  We’ll now turn to questions.  We’ll take one question from each delegation.  The first question goes to Nike Ching of VOA.

QUESTION:  Good afternoon, gentlemen.  Aloha.

For Secretary Blinken, would the United States consider bold steps toward North Korea, and are you concerned that the dispute between Japan and South Korea over island sovereignty and historical issues are getting in the way?  How close are the United, is the United States watching the presidential election in South Korea?

And for Foreign Minister Chung, for Foreign Minister Chung, do you have a assessment of North Korea leader Kim Jong-un’s health?  What do you think is the intention, and how do you evaluate recent missiles launches by North Korea?

And for Foreign Minister Hayashi, do you assess the result of the presidential election in South Korea may complicate a joint trilateral approach toward North Korea?

And separately, if I may, on Ukraine for both Foreign Minister Hayashi and Foreign Minister Chung, has the United States asked Japan to provide more LNG, liquified natural gas, to Europe, supplies to Europe?  And are Japan and South Korea worried over the economic disruptions of a war, and what assurances have you gotten?

(In Japanese and Korean.)  Thank you very much, gentlemen.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Nike, thank you for the excellent multipart, multiperson question.  (Laughter.)  You covered a lot of ground.  I’m happy to start and then hand it over to my colleagues.

I think it is clear to all of us that the DPRK is in a phase of provocation.  We condemned the recent missile launches, violations of UN Security Council resolutions.  We will continue to hold the DPRK accountable even as we seek to engage in diplomacy.  As you know, we imposed sanctions on eight DPRK-linked individuals and entities last month, and we are very closely consulting together on further steps.

At the same time, we remain prepared to meet without preconditions to pursue practical steps toward diplomacy.  The goal remains the same and it’s a shared goal.  It’s the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and it is lasting peace.  We have no hostile intent toward North Korea.  And again, we unfortunately have seen their response to our making it clear that we’re prepared to pursue diplomacy with – unfortunately, that response has been a series now of provocative actions.

I think what’s important and that comes out of today, and this will be reflected in the joint statement that we’ll put out shortly, is that we are absolutely united in our approach, in our determination.  And that unity of purpose is, I think, vitally important for dealing with the challenge posed by the DPRK and also pursuing a more – a more hopeful future.  But I’ll – I invite you to take a look at the joint statement.

When it comes to elections and the like, happily, in my job I don’t do politics.  I don’t do them in my own country.  I don’t do them in other countries.  So I’ll leave it at that.

FOREIGN MINISTER CHUNG:  Thank you. (Via interpreter) Well, there was a question regarding the relations between Korea and Japan.  Although the question was not directed towards myself, regarding the Dokdo Island issue the Korean Government’s position is very clear, so I do not want to repeat that view myself.  But that does not have any impact whatsoever regarding our relations concerning the issue of the DPRK.  In the recent month, the DPRK’s test-firing of ballistic missiles is a conduct that is clearly wrong.  And regarding such launches we have – we are deeply concerned and we expressed regret, and we are strongly urging North Korea to not repeat such testing.

But as was just stated by Secretary Blinken, complete denuclearization and establishment of lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula, our commitment to that goal has never changed.  And for us to be able to achieve these shared goals, diplomacy and dialogue is a way to go for us.  Our commitment to that goal and approach is also unchanged.

Recently, the DPRK is making its own decisions and has been talking about the possibility of lifting its self-imposed moratorium on missile launches.  We are deeply concerned about that, and I strongly urged the DPRK not to put its words into action.

Concerning the situation in Ukraine, the developments have been going into the wrong direction.  And regarding the support of LNG to Europe, if there are any difficulties in that regard concerning the assistance of gas supply to Europe, we are taking that matter into account proactively.  I hope that through diplomacy and dialogue we hope to see the resolution of the situation in Ukraine as well.

FOREIGN MINISTER HAYASHI:  (Via interpreter) Thank you.  I had a frank exchange of views during the bilateral discussions and through the trilateral meeting.  Please refer to the announcement that will be shared later. The position of Takeshima is already known.

And about the special elections in South Korea – there was a question raised – that is a internal affair of a different country, so I will refer from answering the question.

And to supply of natural gas was requested from U.S. and Europe, and Japan has decided to supply the natural gas.  And recently we – there was appreciation expressed from American government as well.

MR PRICE:  Gyu Kim, JTBC.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Ned.

(Via interpreter)  First of all, I have a question to Minister Chung.  The three countries have been actually urging on North Korea to come to dialogue, but we have not been able to see any concrete measures, though.  In order to accelerate their involvement, have you discussed any realistic measures?  I think you said that in your statement.  So what are some concrete measures that you are going to propose to North Korea?  Could you give us more details?

I have a question to Secretary Blinken.  In relation to the Ukraine’s situations, for example, do you believe that ICBM can be launched by North Korea in line with the current situation that’s worsening in Ukraine?  Would you think that United States will be able to manage these two situations at the same time?

And also going beyond urging dialogue from North Korea, perhaps sending a personal letter from President Biden to North Korea?  There are some people who are saying that there should be high-level intervention.

And last, I have a question to Minister Hayashi.  You said that you understand the need to have a trilateral coordination between the three countries.  Perhaps the three leaders have to get together.  So in terms of the bilateral meeting between the Japan and Korea on this, and also there are some historical issues that are underway.

INTERPRETER:  I’m very sorry, but there are disruptions to the feedback – the sound feed that we’re getting from the speaker.  The interpretation booth was not able to get any sound from the microphone.  I believe that the last question by the journalist would have to be repeated again.  There were some technical issues.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter)  So three countries understand the importance of trilateral cooperation.  In order to emphasize and underscore that, we need to have a leader-level meeting at the highest level.  So for example, between the bilateral – the bilateral summit between Korea and Japan, and between the trilateral meetings.  So what is the commitment from Japan?

And also because of the historical issues, do you see a stalemate between the bilateral relations between Korea and Japan?  Of course, two countries would have to work harder.  Are there any specific efforts that are currently undertaken by the Japanese Government in order to improve relations with Korea?

FOREIGN MINISTER HAYASHI:  (Via interpreter) I believe the first question was posed to me, so let met me answer that question.  Yes, we actually discussed a lot of measures to deal with this issue, but we are unable to disclose that information at this point of time.  At an opportune time in the future, I believe that information will be disclosed to the public in due course.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I certainly don’t rule out that North Korea could engage in further provocative actions as things are happening in other parts of the world, including in Europe with regard to Ukraine.  In fact, as we’ve been dealing with the challenge posed by Russia’s threats of aggression against Ukraine, we’ve, of course, had a series of missile launches and tests by North Korea that we’ve responded to in solidarity with our allies and partners.

The bottom line is – and I think in a sense this week is a reasonable demonstration of that – we walk and chew gum at the same time.  Even as I’ve spent the week in the Indo-Pacific region – in Australia, in Fiji, now here in Hawaii, working with the Quad countries, working with our partners in the Pacific Islands, and of course, here today with our close allies and partners from Japan and Korea – I’ve also been engaged, we’ve also been engaged, in managing the challenge that Russia is currently posing to security in Europe and Ukraine.

And in a sense, these things are also inherently linked, because whether it is provocative actions undertaken by the DPRK, Russian aggression toward Ukraine, other actions in this region by large countries that seek to undermine the rules-based order that we have established together, these are – these are of a piece.  And the common denominator is when basic principles that we’ve established together that are vital to the security and the prosperity of people in all of our countries are being challenged, we stand up together to defend them.

Our three countries – and again, I think this will come out in the joint statement – we have a profoundly affirmative vision for what we want to do together for the future, for the citizens of our countries and for people around the world.  But we’re also committed together as allies and partners to stand up and defend the rules-based order and to act together in solidarity when the principles of that order are being challenged, wherever that challenge is taking place, whether it’s in Europe or here in the Indo-Pacific region.

And that’s, again, I think a hallmark and the reason why the United States over many years has established these partnerships, these alliances, bringing countries together in common cause and common purpose.  That enables us very effectively to deal with multiple challenges at the same time.  And again, beyond that I think there’s a common denominator to all of them, which is why, as you’ve heard from my colleagues today, there is tremendous solidarity not only when it comes to dealing with challenges immediately in the Indo-Pacific but when it comes to dealing with the threat of Russian aggression against Ukraine.

FOREIGN  MINISTER CHUNG:  (Via interpreter) Thank you very much.  Cooperation between U.S. and South Korea is essential for the peace and stability in this region.  (Inaudible) North Korea, we discussed about the recent situation, including China and Ukraine, and we had a very good exchange of views.  So going forward for the peace and stability for the region, cooperation between the three countries should be further developed.

INTERPRETER:  Yes, one correction from Japanese-to-English interpreter.  When Minister Hayashi made initial statement, the interpreter skipped one paragraph, which reads as follows:

We also exchanged our views on Ukraine while sharing views about tensions are escalating.  We confirmed our unwavering support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and concurred to continued close coordination.  Apology from interpreter.

MR PRICE:  Thank you.  Our final question will come from Yuichi Nobira from Asahi Shimbun.

QUESTION:  Nobira from Asahi Shimbun.  I have a question to the three ministers.  Although regional stability cooperation between the three countries is important, but currently China is enhancing its advancement into the sea.  And both Japan, the U.S., at the defense ministerial meeting in January and sort of online meeting, they confirmed the strengthening of the alliance.  Between Japan, U.S. and ROK, do you plan to take common measure with agreement with respect to the approaches to China?  How do you think such approaches would be important?  I have question to all of you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I would again invite you to look at the joint statement that we will issue shortly after this meeting comes to an end.  We discussed and I think the statement reflects the shared concern that we have about activities that undermine the rules-based international order, as we were just discussing.  We reaffirmed the desire that we share for a peaceful and stable region that would allow all countries to reach their full potential free from coercion.  We strongly oppose any unilateral actions that seek to alter the status quo and increase tensions in the region.  And we reiterated our very strong support, longstanding support, for international law, highlighting in particular the importance of compliance with international law as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas.

So I think you’ll see that in the joint statement.  We also emphasized the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.  So I invite you to look at the statement when we put it out shortly.  Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER CHUNG:  (In Korean) (Via interpreter)  Thank you.  As far as we’re concerned in this Northeast Asian region, based on order –

INTERPRETER: My apologies, the audio feed is cut off.

FOREIGN MINISTER CHUNG: (Via interpreter) We have reached a full agreement on that aspect.  Maintaining peace and stability in the region is extremely important, and any conduct that goes against maintaining the status quo is something that we opposed.

FOREIGN MINISTER HAYASHI: (In Japanese) (Via interpreter)  So as a solution that both ministers of the three countries must expand, it’s cooperation that was confirmed and the activities that are damaging to international cooperation, which is made in rule or attempts to change the status quo and other actions of trying to enhance tension, is something we agree to strongly oppose such action.

As I have mentioned, cooperation between U.S., ROK, and Japan (inaudible) measures against North Korea, but these are essential for peace and stability of the whole region.  So in addition to responses of North Korea, we had a frank exchange of views of the recent situation, including the situation of China and Ukraine.  So we want to further develop the cooperation between our three countries for the peace and stability of the region.

Based on the rules – I misspoke on my – let me make my apologies.  The order, based on rules, the rules-based order.  International order is something that we value.

MR PRICE:  That concludes the press conference.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, everyone.  I invite you to go outside and enjoy the day. 

Senior State Department Official On the JCPOA Talks

1 Feb

Via Teleconference

MODERATOR:  Thanks very much.  Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for joining the call.  With a break in the talks in Vienna, we wanted to take an opportunity for you to hear from one of our colleagues regarding the current status of things as they stand in relation to a potential mutual return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.  What you hear on this call can be attributed to a senior State Department official.  We’ll embargo the contents of this call until its conclusion.

Just for your background and not for reporting purposes, we have with us today .  But this will be on background, attributed to a senior State Department official and embargoed until its conclusion.  So with that, I will turn it over to my colleague.  Please, go ahead.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Thank you, and thanks again to all of you for joining us.  It’s been a while.  The good news for us is that it means when we are back with you, it means the team is back in D.C., and I think this was – it’s been such a long time, it’s good for everyone to be back home for – even if it’s just for a short while.

I’m sure you’ve heard a lot recently about people saying that this is the endgame, time for political decisions, that we were – one of my colleagues said that we are now in the ballpark.  And I want to sort of deconstruct what all that means.

First, as a matter of timing, we are in the final stretch because, as we’ve said now for some time, this can’t go on forever because of Iran’s nuclear advances.  This is not a prediction.  It’s not a threat.  It’s not an artificial deadline.  It’s just a requirement that we’ve conveyed indirectly to Iran and to all our P5+1 partners for some time, which is that given the pace of Iran’s advances, its nuclear advances, we only have a handful of weeks left to get a deal, after which point it will unfortunately be no longer possible to return to the JCPOA and to recapture the nonproliferation benefits that the deal provided for us.  So again, not an artificial deadline, not an ultimatum, but just a statement of fact that the Iranians have been aware of now for some time that we are reaching the final moment, after which we will no longer be in a position to come back to the JCPOA because it will no longer hold the value that we negotiated for.  So that’s one reason why we say that this – we’re entering into the final – the endgame.

The second reason is substantive.  We’ve been at this now for roughly 10 months, and the last – the last time we were in Vienna, the negotiations in January were among the most intensive that we’ve had to date.  And we made progress narrowing down the list of differences to just the key priorities on all sides.  And that’s why now is a time for political decisions.  Now is the time to decide whether – for Iran to decide whether it’s prepared to make those decisions necessary for a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.

So that’s the reason why negotiators have returned to – for consultations with their leadership to figure out whether they’re prepared to make the tough political decisions that have to be made now if we want to be in a position to secure that mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA.  In other words, we will know sooner rather than later whether we are back in the – the U.S. is back in the JCPOA and Iran is back in fully implementing its obligations under the JCPOA, or whether we’re going to have to face a different reality, a reality of mounting tensions and crisis.

I think it’s been clear now for – since President Biden has been in office what the U.S. strong preference is and what we have devoted our efforts to over the past 10 months or so, and that’s full return to the JCPOA.  And that’s because that would advance core U.S. national interests, it would end the current nuclear nonproliferation crisis, it would create an opportunity to depressurize the broader regional crisis.  In other words, it would get us out of the situation that we inherited from the prior administration’s catastrophic error of withdrawing from the JCPOA, which left us with an unconstrained Iran nuclear program and inadequate if not wholly unsatisfactory tools to address it.

So that would be one option, which would also in our view serve regional and international interests.  I think you’ve all seen the strong support for the return to the JCPOA from our Gulf partners, including a joint statement that we and the GCC put out in November, and you’ve also seen – and we mentioned it in our last call – the growing list of seniormost former Israeli officials, in particular security leaders, who now regret the JCPOA withdrawal and call it a terrible mistake.

That’s our preferred path.  We know that it is very possible that Iran chooses not to go down that path, and we are ready to deal with that contingency.  We hope that’s not the decision that Iran makes, but we are prepared to deal with either one of them.

I think that’s the message that all of the P5+1 have heard.  I think they all are united on this notion that we have little time left, that tough decisions need to be made, and now’s the time to make them.  It’s the message that our European partners in particular left the Iranian delegation in Vienna with last Friday, and it’s our understanding that it’s the message that President Macron conveyed to President Raisi when they spoke over the weekend, that there is an opportunity, that it is a significant opportunity, but there is also urgency.  And if we all don’t move with that urgency, that opportunity will very soon disappear.

Before I turn it over to questions, I want to say a word about the other issue, which is our absolute priority, which is the release of our four citizens who are unjustly detained in Iran.  I think you must know that we had a very intensive, discussions, with some of the – always with the families of the hostages, and we had the opportunity to meet with Barry Rosen.  It was an honor to meet him and an honor to thank him for the effort that he’s been making to shine a spotlight on the outrageous detention of our citizens and of citizens from other countries.  And we have – we are negotiating on the release of the detainees separately from the JCPOA, but as we’ve said, it is very hard for us to imagine a return to the JCPOA while four innocent Americans are behind bars or are detained in Iran.

For that, we would want to stress on this that any news, any information on what’s happening in the negotiations, in the talks over the release of the detainees, should come – will come – from this administration, from the State Department, from the White House.  And I would urge journalists and others in particular not to pay credence to what they may see from other sources, in particular Iranian sources, which have been in the unfortunate habit of adding to the cruelty that is being inflicted on the families of the hostages, the cruelty of putting out false information and sometimes raising expectations.  We’re focused on this issue.  We will do everything in our power to get the detainees out.  But any news will come officially from us, and at this point, we have no news to report other than that we’re continuing those discussions with the urgency and priority that they require.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Great, thanks.  Operator, would you mind repeating the instructions for asking a question?

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  Ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press 1 then 0 on your telephone keypad.  You may withdraw your question at any time by repeating the 1-0 command.  If you are using a speakerphone, please pick up the handset before pressing the numbers.  Once again, if you have a question, you may press 1 then 0 at this time.

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much.  We will start with the line of Andrea Mitchell, please.

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  Your line is open.

QUESTION:  Thank you so much for doing this briefing.  Can you be specific in terms of right now, absent an agreement, how close Iran is, as far as you’re concerned, to breakout?  Is it a matter of weeks?  Less than a month?  What are your concerns about the IAEA not having full visibility for as long as a year to some of the cameras, not being able to see that footage?  And how much progress they’re also making on missiles and perhaps on warheads as well?  So overall what’s your concerns about – in terms of the different elements of Iran’s plan, or program, I should say?  And what do you think is the likelihood of them agreeing to something that would deal with those contingencies, would roll them back?  What do you need to see in order for a response from Iran to be acceptable?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  So thank you, Andrea.  Let me try to take this piece by piece.  So everything you’ve said is actually – that’s exactly – those are the reasons why we think it is in our core national security interest to revive the JCPOA, for us and Iran to be back in compliance, because in the absence of that deal and as a result of the previous administration’s withdrawal, Iran is shortening the breakout timeline – and I’ll come back to that in a second – in ways that are extremely dangerous, and without the visibility that the IAEA had, the unprecedented access that had been negotiated for the IAEA through the JCPOA.  So we are in the situation.  It’s very unfortunate.  We shouldn’t be this situation.  We’re doing everything we can to get back to where we should have been absent that withdrawal.

Back on the breakout timeline, there obviously is information that I can’t share.  I will just refer you to what various think tanks have put out.  And I think it’s fair to say that when it comes to their capacity to have enough fissile material in which it – at weapons grade for a bomb, we’re talking about weeks, not months.  That’s different from the timeline for weaponization, for having a bomb.

But we are very focused, as was the JCPOA, on ensuring that they can’t, that they don’t, reach the – that threshold in terms of breakout timeline on the enrichment side.  And that’s what the JCPOA was very focused on, and we will continue to focus on that.  And we hope with a return to the JCPOA, we know with a return to the JCPOA, that if the constraints are what we had in 2016 – and we should have the same constraints that we’re insisting on this time – we would get back to a breakout timeline that is one that we could – we could accept and that would give us the opportunity to have the kind of reassurance that we need that Iran is not going to seek an undetected breakout.

In terms of the IAEA visibility, same thing.  We obviously are not in a position we’d like – and it is one of the core achievements of the JCPOA – and so we are demanding, as are all the P5+1, a return to the kind of IAEA access that existed back in 2016 and that was negotiated.  So there’s no mystery.  We’re trying to get Iran to go back to the requirements and a constraint that it had accepted in 2016.

As to the question about how much progress they’re making on missiles, we’ve spoken about that separately.  And of course, it’s a huge concern for us and for our partners in the region and for others.  It is not a subject of these negotiations, but we have other tools to deal with it.  We’ll continue to use those tools.  And of course, we hope that – more than hope – it is our objective to get at some point a discussion, a regional discussion that will deal with all these other issues, all of the security issues, the security concerns, and the threats that Iran presents as a result of its missile and other programs.

So how likely?  When you say how likely is it that the deal – that a deal could address those contingencies, the purpose of getting back into the deal is to deal – is to address the nuclear contingency that you mentioned, the issues of enrichment breakout time and the issue of IAEA access, the question of what centrifuges Iran could operate.  All of that was at the heart of the JCPOA.  All of that was why the JCPOA was such an important deal to preserve and why the withdrawal was such a catastrophic mistake.  That’s what we’re trying to restore.

If Iran is interested in and sees an interest in coming back to the JCPOA, we will achieve those  — we will re-establish those constraints, and in return, of course, Iran would get the sanctions relief that it bargained for back in 2015.

MODERATOR:  We’ll go to Francesco Fontemaggi.

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  Your line is open.

QUESTION:  Hi, thanks, .  What would you say are the main last sticking points to an agreement in Vienna?  Iran said today it was still around removal of sanctions and guarantees that the U.S. will not withdraw.  What would you say on your side?

And then one more is there was an opening last week from Iran about direct talks that you have been asking – do you think – is there a chance that the next round is a direct one, or you are not there yet?  Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  So I apologize in advance because this will be my answer to any specific questions about the negotiations, is that we make it a matter of principle that we won’t negotiate in public, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.  So of course, to try to identify sticking points – what I will – is difficult.  What I will say is that I think we are at the point where some of the core – the most critical political decisions have to be made by all sides.  President Biden has said clearly we are prepared to get back into the JCPOA and to make the political decisions necessary to achieve that goal, and we’re hoping that Iran will do the same.

On the issue of direct talks, we’re not – this is not a matter of seeking – asking Iran to do us a favor with direct talks.  If Iran doesn’t want to talk to us, that is, of course, their decision.  Our point is, not as a favor to the U.S. or as a favor to Iran but as a favor to the process, if our goal is to reach an understanding quickly – which is what we need to do – and to avoid misunderstandings and to avoid miscommunication and to make sure that both sides know exactly what they’re getting into, the optimal way to do that in any negotiation is for the parties that have the most at stake to meet directly.  That’s been our view from the outset.  We’re prepared to meet with Iran if they are prepared to meet with us.  We’re not – we can’t compel Iran, but we can say that we think that it would be very much in the interest of the process.

And again, I think that’s a point on which the P5+1, the Europeans, Russia, and China are absolutely in unison in believing that it would make the most sense for Iran and the U.S. to meet directly.  We have not met directly yet.  We have no indication that’s going to be the case when we reconvene.  All I would say is – say in conclusion is that, again, given how little time is left, given how critical the decisions that need to be are, it would be deeply unfortunate – and I’m using a diplomatic term – if that opportunity were lost in part because there had not been the opportunity, the ability, for Iran and the United States to have a direct conversation.  That would be extremely regrettable.

Again, not our decision.  It would be up to Iran to make its own choice, but it would be very hard to explain, if we faced a crisis, to those who will suffer from the crisis that the reason for that, the reason we weren’t able to get the deal, the reason that Iran could not get the sanctions relief that it wants, was at least in part because Iran was not prepared to sit down with the U.S. and try to overcome the remaining hurdles.

MODERATOR:  We’ll go to Kylie Atwood.

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  Your line is open.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Appreciate it.  I am – I have two questions.  I know you aren’t going to get into the nitty-gritty of where things stand right now, but I’m just wondering:  Is there a pathway to salvaging the deal that has been laid down in the Vienna talks thus far that the U.S. is willing and ready to accept?  And is that what you are talking about with Biden administration officials this week in Washington?

And then my second question is you spoke to the U.S. being prepared to deal with either situation, whether the Iran deal is salvaged or it’s not.  And I’m wondering if you can be a little bit more explicit about what types of moves the U.S. would consider taking if the deal isn’t salvaged.  Thanks.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  So Kylie, on your first question, again, I think we have been clear from the outset that we’re prepared to do what it would take in terms of lifting those sanctions that are inconsistent with the JCPOA to come back into the deal.  So those – that’s a decision that President Biden and Secretary Blinken and National Security Advisor Sullivan and other cabinet officials made some time ago.  So this is not a difficult call in that respect.  I think we just need to know whether Iran is prepared to make those decisions.  I think, as we’ve said, if they are, they have on the U.S. side a party that is prepared to make the difficult decisions as well.  So we will find out when the talks resume.

We’ve gotten into, in the past, in some of these conversations the issue of what would happen if there’s no deal.  I think it’s a future that is not hard to divine.  Obviously, Iran’s nuclear program in that situation would not be constrained.  It would continue at the alarming pace that it has – that the Iranian leadership has undertaken for some time.  And we would have to fortify our response, and that means more pressure – economic, diplomatic, and otherwise.  And as I said earlier, that’s not a future that we aspire to, but it’s one that we’re ready to – a path that we’re ready to go down if that’s the decision that Iran makes.  And we will use the tools that we have to ensure that our interests are preserved and that Iran cannot acquire a nuclear weapon.

MODERATOR:  We’ll go to Karen DeYoung.

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  Your line is open.

QUESTION:  Hi, thank you.  You just said that decisions by the United States in terms of what sanctions you are prepared to lift were made a long time ago, and yet you’ve also said in this conversation that political decisions have to be made by all sides.  At the same time, Iran said today that it has given the United States a written statement that it expects a response to.  What are the political decisions that have to be made on the U.S. and P5+1/P4+1 side?  So what – have they given you a written document?  And what – when you say decisions have to be made by all sides, what decisions have to be made here?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  So Karen, I’m not aware of what written document they may be referring to.  There are obviously a lot of exchanges of documents that take place in Vienna, so I’m not sure exactly.  I’ve not seen that statement by the Iranians, so I’m not sure what they are – what they may be alluding to.

Again, your question is kind of a different way to ask the prior question about what we think, where we are in the negotiations, which I don’t want to – I’m not going to address outside of the negotiating room.  I’d say the decisions that need to be made by the U.S. in order to come back to the deal have been made.  We are prepared to go back into the deal.  It doesn’t mean that every detail of the negotiation has been resolved from our side, but we are prepared to make those tough choices.

And again, we believe that Iran has to make a fundamental choice whether – if it wants to get back in the deal with the U.S. back in the deal and then back into full compliance.  It’s a decision that they should make relatively soon for the reasons that I outlined above, and we hope that we’ll be able to when we resume to quickly reach and then implement that deal.  And as I said, the U.S. – and I think I could speak for the Europeans as well – are prepared to do what it takes to be back in – well, the E3 never were out of compliance, but for us to be back in compliance with the deal and for Iran to receive the benefits that it was promised under that deal.

MODERATOR:  Robin Wright, please.

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  Your line is open.

QUESTION:  Thanks.  Thanks, , for doing this.  Can you help us understand the evolution of Iran’s position?  It played hardball, as we all know, at the beginning.  Has it – did it kind of soften with that posturing?  Has it been demonstrably more flexible in ways that are hopeful?

And secondly, on the process itself, there have always been two parts to it.  One was the substance of the deal, and the second was the sequencing; in other words, who does what when and who goes first.  Can you help us understand?  Is the sequencing not even been dealt with?  Are you just dealing with the first part?

And since the IAEA has not had visibility in key facilities like Karaj, which manufactures centrifuges now for a year, how concerned are you about a sneakout versus a breakout in which Iran is creating alternatives by taking things that haven’t – centrifuges that haven’t been captured on camera and moving them to a place so it has a fallback if it wants to do something after the IAEA gets back?

And finally, can you help us understand why two key team members of your team have left?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Okay, let me start with your first question.  I don’t want to get into speculation as to what happened on the Iranian side.  I think it is fair to say that when they came back, when the first meeting we had with – when the new government was in – sent its team to Vienna, it was a very tough round in which everyone – again, I think I’m – I think it was shared by all of the P5+1 that what we heard from Iran was inconsistent with all of the discussions that had taken place since March and April, but also inconsistent with what any logical return to the JCPOA would entail.

Since then, I think as we’ve said, we are back in a serious, businesslike negotiation in which, again, there are still significant gaps, so I don’t want to in any way understate those.  But we are in a position where the conversations are, as I said, businesslike and where we can see a path to a deal if those decisions are made and if it’s done quickly.

So Robin, of course, everything has been discussed.  And obviously, sequencing has been discussed, and I think I’ve said on prior calls that we don’t think that that’s going to be the real obstacle to reaching a deal.  We don’t think that the question of who goes first is going to be an insuperable obstacle as long as there’s a sequence agreed and enough confidence by both sides that the steps that the other side – that each side – that the steps that the other side needs to take will be taken.  I think that’s not something that should stand in the way of reaching an understanding.

Yes, of course we are concerned by the loss of visibility by the IAEA.  At the same time, any understanding, if we were to reach an understanding of our return to the JCPOA and Iran resuming full implementation, the IAEA would have to do what is called a baselining to make sure that it has a picture of the state of Iran’s nuclear program.  And we have confidence that – and we’ve discussed this with Director General Grossi – that they would have the tools to meet that requirement.  So yes, and the more time goes by, the more difficult it is; and there will come a time, if there is continued lack of visibility, where it will become extraordinarily difficult.  But right now, we believe we can still – the IAEA can still do the work it needs to do so that we know the state of Iran’s nuclear program.

Finally, on your question about personnel, I think you all know one of my two deputies, Richard Nephew, is moving to another job in the State Department.  I want to say I think Richard was and is an exceptional colleague and somebody who will – wherever he will end up in the department will do extraordinary work.  And so it’s obviously with regret that we see him moving on to some other position, but that’s not unusual a year or two into – a year into a new administration.  And Jarrett Blanc, who has been the other deputy, is still here and continuing in those – in his prior responsibilities.

A lot of the stories that have been said about the team are simply misinformed.  The team presents a wide range of policy options and arguments to the senior-most leadership of our government, but at the end of the day, the team simply implements – the Iran team implements the policies that the President, Secretary of State, the national security advisors, and others in the Cabinet have decided on.  This is not a matter of person; it’s a matter of what the policy of the administration is.  And that’s the policy that’s being conducted, and so it’s not a matter of personal differences.  It’s a matter of a policy that the administration has settled on and that everyone serving the administration is pursuing.

MODERATOR:  Take a final question or two.  David Sanger.

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  Your line is open.

QUESTION:  Great.  Thank you, , for doing this.  You’ll remember that in 2015 – and it bled into 2016 – the actual implementation of the deal took a while to happen.  You actually had an implementation day by which time all of the excess uranium beyond the limits of the 2015 deal were shipped out to Russia and certain pieces of equipment were dismantled and so forth.

Assuming for a minute that the decisions – political decisions come together, and we understand that may or may not happen, do you now have confidence that you have a schedule in place that would provide a public, visible reduction in the nuclear material back to the 2015 levels, that would be confirmable by the IAEA, visible to everybody, we’d see the shipments and so forth much as we did in 2015?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  So David, we would not come back into deal without the confidence and the verification by the IAEA about – that Iran had met all of its requirements under the deal, and that’s not something I think that is really in dispute in these talks.  I don’t think that’s an issue on which – that Iran would object to.  At least that would come as a surprise.

So whatever – when a deal – if and when a deal – and you’re right to say that it’s sort of a big “if.”  But if and when a deal is reached, of course, each side will have to undertake its obligations.  And on Iran’s side, it has always been understood that the – in terms of the – its disposition of its enriched uranium, that would have to be verified by the IAEA, and so we don’t expect anything different.

MODERATOR:  We’ll go to the line of Guita Aryan.

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  Your line is open.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Hi, .  I want to try one question one more time in probably another way.  Has the U.S. offered or presented its final offer to the Iranian side with regards to sanctions removal or is there room for some maneuver?

And I have a question also about the possible exchange of prisoners.  Is it – I’m looking for my colleague’s question here.  During the indirect talks with regards to the possible exchange, has Iran raised its demand for the release of Iranians who are under prosecution or imprisonment in the U.S. for federal offenses?  And what is your position on whether dropping charges or granting early releases for those Iranians – is it acceptable as part of a future prisoner swap?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Thank you.  Let me start with the last one first.  It’s a very sensitive negotiation.  It’s one in which the lives of our fellow citizens are at stake, so I really don’t want to get into any details about what we are – what is being under discussion.  For us, this is an absolute priority to get the four back home and we will not do anything that could complicate either the return or the treatment that they are undergoing while in Iran.

On your other question, if I understood you, you said has the U.S. presented its final offer about what it would do on sanctions relief.  Let me make a broader point.  This is a negotiation, as I said earlier, with very high stakes for national security, for all the reasons that I gave.  And again, it’s not an issue that we should be dealing with, but unfortunately, we’ve been met with this hand and so we have to deal with it, and we’re dealing with it as best we can to protect our core national security interests.

So this – we’re not looking to create theatrics or cinematic moments.  Rather, along with the E3 and in consultation with our other P5+1 partners, we – what we want to do is clarify for Iran what we think are the outstanding issues, and to identify them and to identify areas where we think there’s – what the compromises could look like.

So that’s what we’re doing, trying to communicate to Iran at the same time that there’s time pressure not created by us, and not arbitrarily introduced by us, but created by Iran’s nuclear steps and Iran’s so far refusal to slow them and – slow them down or halt them.

So again, just to repeat, not going to negotiate in public, we’re not going to say what we have – what we suggested and what Iran has suggested on its end, but simply to say this is not – we’re not into this to create drama.  We’re here to get the best outcome possible for U.S. national security interests.  We hope Iran would agree to that, so that it – so that we could come back into the JCPOA, and that Iran will be back in full compliance.  If that’s not the case, we’re ready to deal with the alternative.

MODERATOR:  We’ll conclude with the line of Barak Ravid.

OPERATOR:  Thank you, your line is open.

QUESTION:  Hi, .  Thank you very much for doing this.

First question, I want to follow up on what you said on direct talks, possible direct talks with Iran.  And from what you said, it seemed that your assessment is that if there are direct talks, you can get the deal, so that this is one of the last things you need in order to get the deal, that if you just sit together in the same room with the Iranians, you can get a deal.  Is this actually what you’re saying?

And the other question is for a few weeks now, you’re saying that there are only a few weeks left for negotiations, and you also said that the way for the Iranians to put more time on the clock was to slow down their nuclear program.  Did you see any slowdown in the Iranian nuclear program in the last – in recent days or weeks?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  So on your first question, I don’t think – I think you, Barak, significantly overread what I said and then misread what I said.  I certainly didn’t say that if we had direct talks we can get into the deal.  What I said was this is a complicated negotiation with room for a lot of misunderstanding, a lot of misinterpretation and miscommunication.  And we think it would be facilitated by direct talks and accelerated by direct talks, absolutely no guarantee that if we sat down together, that’s not – that’s not a magical solution.  It may – we still may find ourselves at an impasse.  What I said was it would be regrettable if, looking back, one of the reasons – one of the reasons why we were not able to reach a deal would be because of the inability to sit down and try to overcome the remaining hurdles.

Again, not saying that if we did that, we’d reach a deal; not saying that if we don’t do that, we can’t reach a deal.  Saying that it doesn’t make sense if you want to put all of the – if you want to do everything possible to see if you could reach a deal, a deal that both sides would accept, that you would not agree to sit down together.  But again, we’re not – obviously, we’re not begging for a meeting.  That’s – if there’s no meeting, there’s no meeting.  We just think that it would be the logical step to take if in fact we are determined to do everything possible to get back into deal.  And it is a position that I think all of the P5+1 has echoed, because all of them believe that it’s simply common sense that in a negotiation, parties with a very important – perhaps the central stakes in this negotiation should sit down and try to see what potential solutions are.  But if that’s not the case, we’ll try to reach a deal without that.

On your second point, I would say this – and we’ve said this many times:  At the current pace, at Iran’s current pace, we only have very few weeks to reach a deal.  You’ve said that we’ve said that now for some weeks, so do the math.  There are many fewer weeks left now than there were when we first said it.

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much to our senior State Department official, and thanks very much to everyone for joining the call.  Appreciate your time, and the embargo is now lifted.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Thank you.

Deputy Secretary Sherman’s Meeting with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov

9 Jan

The following is attributable to Spokesperson Ned Price:

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov today in Geneva. Deputy Secretary Sherman was accompanied by Lt. Gen. James Mingus, Director of Operations, Joint Staff, and Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov was accompanied by Deputy Minister of Defense Col. Gen. Aleksandr Fomin. The Deputy Secretary and Deputy Foreign Minister discussed the bilateral topics both sides would address during the extraordinary meeting of the Strategic Stability Dialogue (SSD) January 10.  The Deputy Secretary stressed the United States’ commitment to the international principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity, and the freedom of sovereign nations to choose their own alliances. The Deputy Secretary affirmed that the United States would welcome genuine progress through diplomacy. The United States will discuss certain bilateral issues with Russia at the SSD, but will not discuss European security without our European Allies and partners. The Deputy Secretary underscored that discussion of certain subjects would be reserved for the NATO-Russia Council meeting in Brussels on January 12 and the OSCE Permanent Council meeting in Vienna on January 13.

Secretary Blinken’s Call with Tunisian President Saied

21 Nov

The below is attributable to Spokesperson Ned Price:

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke with President Kais Saied to discuss recent developments in Tunisia, including the formation of the new government and steps to alleviate the economic situation. The Secretary encouraged a transparent and inclusive reform process to address Tunisia’s significant political, economic, and social challenges and to respond to the Tunisian people’s aspirations for continued democratic progress.

Joint Statement of the Bilateral Counternarcotics Working Group Colombia – United States

25 Sep

Within the framework of the Counternarcotics Working Group, the U.S. and Colombian delegations discussed avenues to further strengthen the bilateral relationship, renewed their commitments to counternarcotics cooperation, highlighted the close collaboration and progress achieved during the Administration of President Iván Duque, and agreed to a broad framework for a new bilateral counternarcotics strategy. The delegations committed to finalize and release more details of the new strategy in the coming months.

The discussions focused on the need for a holistic approach to strengthening our counternarcotics strategy along three pillars: integrated supply reduction, comprehensive rural security and development, and environmental protection. This comprehensive approach will include close coordination of actions to promote greater stability in rural areas, establish an effective and sustainable national government presence, accelerate comprehensive rural development, guarantee the protection of human rights, and strengthen rule of law. The two sides agreed that the new strategy should be first implemented in three prioritized municipalities: Tumaco, Cáceres, and Sardinata.

In addition to programs that expand the presence and the services of the state, the discussions focused on improving citizen security, interrupting drug trafficking supply chains, sustaining coca eradication, and interdicting chemical precursors and cocaine. To reduce money laundering and strengthen asset forfeiture, the two sides also agreed to focus on reducing illicit cash transactions, prioritize arrests, prosecutions, and extraditions of key traffickers and their enablers, and strengthen the judicial system.

Both governments underscored the importance of Colombia’s integrated security and rural development program, as well as the reduction of illicit crops, which combines not only supply reduction, but also the creation of licit opportunities and strengthening of roads and productive infrastructure to contribute to the rural development with an emphasis in the Territorial Development Plans areas (PDETs). Both sides also expressed support for the “Future Zones,” a development and security approach that contains a long-term vision for territorial transformation, a culture of lawfulness, licit economies and advancing rural Colombia’s transition to peace.

The delegations agreed to strengthen efforts to protect the environment from exploitation by criminal groups, reducing drug use and its negative consequences, and improving technical capabilities for detecting coca cultivation and assessing cocaine production. The delegations also discussed plans to establish additional tools and metrics by which they can measure the success of interconnected counternarcotics, security, and development interventions.

The U.S. and Colombian representatives discussed the new Colombian National Police transformation and innovation plan, and agreed the plan’s focus on accountability, transparency, and human rights would strengthen police institutional capacity to counter narcotrafficking and organized crime.

The meeting also advanced preparations for the next High-Level Dialogue between the United States and Colombia, which is the main forum to discuss all aspects of the bilateral partnership. This High-Level Dialogue facilitates coordination on wide-ranging issues, such as economic development, security, reducing drug trafficking, educational exchanges, environmental protection, human rights, and health, among other areas of shared interest.

Both sides reaffirmed the strong counternarcotics partnership, which is critical to disrupting the cocaine supply chain. As the ongoing discussions demonstrate, Colombia and the United States recognize that complex problems, such as drug trafficking, are a shared responsibility that require long-term solutions and a comprehensive, sustained political response.

Secretary Blinken’s Meeting with Palauan President Whipps, Jr.

4 Aug

The below is attributable to Spokesperson Ned Price:

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met with Palauan President Surangel Whipps, Jr. today in Washington, D.C. Secretary Blinken and President Whipps discussed U.S.-Palau cooperation, building back better from the COVID-19 pandemic, and setting an ambitious agenda to combat climate change. The Secretary and the President also reiterated the importance of advancing negotiations related to the U.S.-Palau Compact Review and working with partners for a free and open Indo-Pacific.