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Secretary Antony J. Blinken At a Tour of Nexter Headquarters with French Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu

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SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, let me begin by thanking the defense minister for receiving us today, but more than today, for the extraordinary partnership that France, the United States, and so many other countries have developed in support of Ukraine, helping them resist the Russian aggression that continues to this day.  I think what Minister Lecornu, Secretary Austin, and others have built is truly extraordinary, both in providing the artillery systems, the munitions, the air defenses that up until now have helped ensure that Ukraine could resist and resist effectively this Russian aggression. 

I have not seen in the 30 or so years that I’ve been involved in these issues a better example of burden sharing between the United States and its partners than the one we see in Ukraine.  Together, for as much as the United States has provided, our European partners and other partners from well beyond Europe because of the global nature of this challenge have provided even more.

But even as we’ve accomplished all of this and even as Russia has suffered what I believe to be a strategic debacle in Ukraine – it’s weaker militarily, it’s weaker economically, it’s weaker diplomatically, Ukraine is more united than ever before, Europe has taken itself off of the dependence on Russian energy, and our NATO Alliance is both stronger and now bigger by two members.  And, of course, Ukraine, which many predicted would fall in a matter of days, continues to stand strong.  But we are at a critical moment where it is absolutely essential to get Ukrainians what they continue to need to defend themselves, particularly when it comes to munitions and air defenses.

And so there’s a near-term challenge that we’re working together to meet.  It’s another reason why the supplementary budget request that President Biden has made to Congress must be fulfilled as quickly as possible.  It’s needed now.  It’s needed urgently.  But it’s also an investment in ourselves, and what we’ve been talking about today besides the immediate challenges for Ukraine is the work that both of our countries are doing and where France is a real leader, as in so many other areas, in building back and strengthening our defense industrial base, because unfortunately, the challenges that we’re seeing in Ukraine are not going to go away tomorrow, and we have to make sure that we have the means not only to continue to help Ukraine but to make sure our own defenses are as strong as possible.

But these investments in the defense industrial base are also investments in ourselves, and I’d just conclude by saying that, again, when it comes to the supplemental budget request, virtually all of the money requested for defense articles for Ukraine will be invested in the United States to produce what’s needed.  So we look to Congress to act quickly and swiftly and effectively, just as our European partners have continued to act so effectively when it comes to Ukraine.

DEFENSE MINISTER LECORNU:  (Via translation) Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary of State, dear Antony.  Thank you for agreeing to this visit here at KNDS, especially because we welcome you as a friend of France who speaks absolutely remarkable French, and a part of your heart, of your adolescence, of your young childhood was spent here in Paris.  I know you take great pleasure coming back each time to France, and we French also on a personal level welcome you.  So we wanted to tell you that. 

Thank you for stopping by KNDS, which is at the heart of what we are trying to do as part of the months-long artillery-focused action between France and the United States.  You recall as part of the UDCG initiative, which was piloted from the Ramstein base, a number of actions to which France immediately responded.  For us it was obviously a question of being effective, complementary in our aid to Ukraine; and having a 360-degree approach, including training, equipment, maintenance of the equipment, and of course, ammunition. 

We see this clearly as a critical moment when we must demonstrate endurance in support for Ukraine – budgetary endurance, capacity endurance, and industrial endurance.  And I really want to thank dear Nicolas and all of the KNDS team who were able to meet the challenge in making good on France’s word to Ukraine within the framework of the partnership initiatives that we are leading, together with our American friends.

CAESAR has become the symbol of our artillery support.  With a significant increase in production capacities – from two per month to now six per month – and perhaps giving a figure which has never been publicly expressed but which was presented by the teams from KNDS to Antony a few moments ago, we’re going to increase the production up to 12 cannons per month.  In any case, the artillery cannons that go on the chassis of this CAESAR truck show our ability to respond to the needs of Ukraine – and, dear Antony, also to respond to the needs of European partners who are members of NATO, who are in the process of reaching their 2 percent of GDP contributions, and who are in the process of acquiring weapon systems to contribute to the defense and collective deterrence of the whole of NATO.

It is obviously also a key issue for our defense industries to respond to this favorably in a framework of interoperability, which I hope will also be one of the major outcomes of the Washington Summit which we will soon have at the anniversary of the foundation of the NATO Alliance.

We will forge ahead on ammunition, which is the key issue, to be able to develop stocks of powder which we can produce here.  Obviously, we have drawn operational conclusions from everything that has happened in the last few years, and from our aid to Ukraine.  And so we’re obviously going to continue our engagement with the Secretary of State, which has allowed us to return to discussions of ground-air defense – a segment in which we are very committed.  And, as I had the opportunity to say to the press this Sunday, France will once again make deliveries of Aster missiles for the SAMP/T device that we gave to Ukraine alongside our Italian friends.

So all of this is obviously indicative of a strong endurance, which is needed in the coming weeks and months. 

So thank you for your presence, thank you for your words, and thank you for the very effective partnership between Paris and Washington in this aid to Ukraine, which I believe we are doing very effectively and in a very complementary way.

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