NEWS

Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski, Willie Geist, Andrea Mitchell, Katty Kay, and Mike Barnicle of Morning Joe on MSNBC


QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, great to have you with us.  So where do we stand right now in terms of Washington supporting Kyiv?  Do you think you still have enough Republicans in the House and Senate to keep this country united in its pushback against Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Joe, first, great to see you.  Mika, great to see you.

QUESTION:  Great to see you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  And it’s really great to be here this morning.  Look, the hallmark of this effort to support Ukraine has been bipartisan support, and we’ve seen that from day one.  Conversations I’ve had with leaders in Congress, including Republican leaders, in recent days shows that that support remains strong.  And I think as President Zelenskyy has an opportunity to come to Washington, to make his case directly to folks in Congress, I think you’ll see that support continue to be manifested.  And it is so vital that we continue to back the Ukrainians the way we have.  And by the way, not just us – we have dozens of other countries doing the same thing.  The stakes are extraordinarily high.

You know, we’re here in New York at the United Nations, and this place came together – I mean, we tend to forget it because it’s so long ago.  This place came together after two world wars.  And the basic idea was countries need to come together, agree on certain rules – how they’re going to operate and how they’re going to relate to each other – to make sure we don’t have another world war.  And a big part of that was saying – and it’s right there in the UN Charter – that you’ve got to respect another country’s sovereignty, its territorial integrity.  You can’t just go in, cross its borders, bully the country, try to take it over, erase it from the map – exactly what Putin has tried to do and failed to do in Ukraine.

If we allow that to go forward with impunity, if we allow Putin to get away with it, then it is open season for any would-be aggressor anywhere in the world.  They’re all watching.  And they’re saying:  If he can do it, I can do it.  That’s a world full of conflict; that’s a world full of hurt.  It’s a world we don’t want to be in.  So I think the stakes are clear; the interest is clear.  And then of course, there’s a profound human dimension that I know touches lots of Americans.

QUESTION:  And that was just the first point, the point about the UN Charter and sovereignty, that you made it in your case before the Security Council yesterday.  You added that Russia is committing war crimes, engaging in nuclear saber-rattling, weaponizing hunger, now cooperating with North Korea in the war effort.  It’s a case you’ve made many times over the last year and a half.  Is it your sense that the people who need to hear that message are internalizing it?  Are they willing to do anything about it?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Willie, I think it’s really important that we keep coming back not just to the strong interest that we have in supporting Ukraine with all these other countries, but also the human dimension, because it’s easy from so far away or in a conference room to lose sight of that.  We’re talking big policy issues.  I was just in Ukraine for the fourth time since the Russian aggression, and Andrea has been there so many times as well.

We went to a small town, Yahidne.  It’s about two and a half hours’ drive outside of Kyiv.  And went there, and when the Russians came in 18 months ago, they took over this town, they herded up all of the residents – just a few hundred people – they took them to the schoolhouse, they put them in a basement, a basement unfit for human habitation.  They had their command post on the ground floor.  And they basically put people there as human shields.  And it was elderly people, it was women, it was children as young as a month old.

They kept them there for 28 days in a room not any bigger than this set.  No air, no sanitation, and what happened during those 28 days is truly horrific.  I had – I saw this room, people who had been there.  They showed me on the wall a list that they kept, a list that they kept of local residents who had been executed by the Russian invaders, and then a list of people who were in that room and who had died in that room, including about 10 people, mostly elderly.  If they died after noon, the Russians would not allow the removal of the body.  So you had children in that room as young as a couple of months old – but 3,4,5,6 years old – forced to be there with barely no room to lie down, to be there with those bodies.  Twenty-eight days until the Ukrainians came back.

Now, this is one small town in one place in Ukraine, and what we’re seeing in different ways over these 18 months are these kinds of abuses and atrocities being committed.  We can’t lose sight of that either.

QUESTION:  So when you tell that story, Mr. Secretary, to your counterpart from Beijing or your counterparts from India – who might actually be in a position to lean on Vladimir Putin, to have a little bit of leverage, but haven’t done so – what do they say?  Why aren’t they doing more?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So first, do no harm.  What we want to make sure of is that countries that may have some affinities with Russia don’t go in there and support Russia —

QUESTION:  Right.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  — with material support, with arms, with weapons.  But we’re also seeing something else.  Over the last few months, the Ukrainians have been pushing their own peace proposal.  And we’ve had a couple of meetings where we brought countries together from around the world, including countries like Brazil, like India, like South Africa, like China, all coming together to talk about the Ukrainian plan for peace.  And that’s progress, because if all of these countries rally behind those basic ideas, then I think we can eventually see some movement.

The problem now is this.  In this moment, Vladimir Putin has shown no interest in actually coming up with a meaningful diplomatic settlement.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, I was at an event last night where President Zelenskyy was awarded and gave a speech, and it’s so compelling in person.  Are you counting on him in person to Congress?  Because a new letter today has enough House and Senate members to block the aid, and they’re still saying they’re going to refuse.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I think we all know – we’ve all heard him many times – President Zelenskyy is incredibly compelling.  He’s a terrific communicator.  But that communication is – comes from someplace deep and real.  And ultimately – and I keep coming back to this because I’ve seen, talked to so many Ukrainians over the last 18 months – the real difference-maker when it comes to success is the fact that they’re fighting for their own country, for their own future, for their own lives.  The Russians are not in the same way, and I think that makes the biggest difference.

And let’s keep this in perspective, too.  Just over the last year, the Ukrainians have taken back more than 50 percent of the territory that had been seized from them by Putin starting in February 2022.  Now, the last few months in this counteroffensive, it’s been tough, it’s been hard going, but they’re making progress there, too.  This is not the time to give up on them.

But the – there’s one last thing that’s important here.  We’re also working to make sure that we can transition to the kind of sustainable, long-term support that we and other countries can really get behind.  And that means basically getting to a point where Ukraine is standing on its own two feet militarily, economically, democratically.  And we’ve got 30 countries working on that right now.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, there’s a – seems to be kind of two conversations happening in New York this week with the conversation we’re having around the table at the moment, which is about Ukraine, but a lot of countries from what you might call the Global South saying hold on a second, this is a priority that is led by America and European countries but we’re actually much more focused on issues like climate change and the inequity around climate change and the degree to which we’re suffering.  How much are you trying to reach out to those countries not just on Ukraine, but say listen, we do hear you?  And the expansion of the BRICS, the G20 – they have a sort of sense of momentum about them and a feeling that perhaps America is ignoring their agendas.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So Katty, I think if you had an opportunity to listen to the President speak to this, to the General Assembly, two thirds, three quarters of his speech was exactly on those issues, the issues directly of concern to people around the globe.  And he made the case that we need, as an international community, to focus on them.  He made the case that the United States is by far the leading contributor to all of these efforts whether it’s on climate, whether it’s on food security, whether it’s on building better infrastructure and building it in the right way, whether it’s dealing with global health.  All of the issues that people care about around the world, we are the number one provider, and it’s a false choice to say it’s either Ukraine or it’s this global agenda.  We have to do both, and in fact we are doing both.

And I think what I heard after the President spoke, just talking to a lot of my counterparts from around the world, was deep appreciation for the focus that he brought to these issues and appreciation for the fact the United States is leading on them.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, you mentioned a few moments ago the Ukrainian peace proposal.  Could you give us the details of the Ukrainian peace proposal?  And this is a peace proposal made by the heads of a government, of a nation that has been destroyed.  It’s been destroyed.  It’s going to cost billions and decades to recover.  What’s going on?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So Mike, two things here.  First, the proposal is grounded in the basic principles of the United Nations Charter, starting with territorial integrity, starting with sovereignty, but also looking at elements that would help the Ukrainians rebuild the country that’s been devastated by the Russians and find other accommodations.  It’s a very strong foundation for starting a negotiation.  But the recovery of Ukraine is hugely important because as much as the military support matters, the flip side of that is for the country not just to survive but to thrive, it has to have a strong economic recovery and it has to deep-root its democracy.

So one of the things we did just this week is the President named a close colleague of mine, former Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, who is deeply connected to the private sector, deep government experience, to lead our own efforts on helping Ukraine pursue its economic recovery.  As I look at it, as we look at it, we see tremendous opportunity for private sector investment in Ukraine.  Governments can do a lot; they have done a lot.  International banks have done a lot; they’ll continue to do a lot.  But ultimately, the secret to success is making sure Ukraine has a really strong and positive investment environment and that companies go there.  We met with a number of leading American companies just yesterday here in New York, and I think there’s a real enthusiasm for working in Ukraine.  That is the secret to Ukraine’s long-term success: strong military, strong economy, strong democracy.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, I want to ask you about the Middle East because Prime Minister Netanyahu has said to the President, to President Biden, yesterday that they could make history together.  And I’m told that this deal is really, really coming together; it’s going to be very difficult, it’s complicated, but it’s a three-way deal where Israel will give up some land to the Palestinians yet undefined, Saudi Arabia would get civilian nuclear power ability from the U.S. – which has long been a red line for a lot of people, especially in Congress – and Saudi Arabia would recognize Israel, which would be a tectonic shift which could end the Arab-Israeli conflict.  And a lot of other side deals, plus this defense agreement between the United States and Saudi Arabia, which will be the first for the Middle East.  Now, hard to come together.  But that is history being made.  Do you think that this could actually happen, maybe in the new year?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, Andrea, as you’ve laid out very well, there are a lot of moving pieces here.  But the points you made that this would be transformative is exactly right.  We’ve had decades of instability, disruption, conflict in the Middle East – go back to 1979 or even before.  To move to a region that’s more and more integrated, where countries have a stake in working together, in keeping the peace, and of course the strong message that it sends if you have the leading Islamic country in the world making peace with Israel, I think that truly is transformative.  But it’s complicated, and to land all of these different pieces, it takes a tremendous amount of work.  We’re in the middle of it; it’s still a challenge.  I don’t want to predict where it’s going to go.  But the bottom line is yes, it’s possible, and if we can get there, it would be a huge change.

QUESTION:  But can it be done with this prime minister, who is arguably leading the most right-wing coalition and has a deeply divided domestic situation over what he’s trying to do with the judiciary system in Israel?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Each of the leaders involved is going to be looking, I think, fundamentally, to what is their national interest.  And this isn’t about individual leaders, it’s not about individual governments.  It is about transforming relationships among some of the most critical countries in the world.  And at the end of the day, I think that’s what’s going to motivate everyone involved.

QUESTION:  And you met with China’s vice president —

QUESTION:  All right, Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for being with us.  We greatly appreciate it.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you, Joe.

QUESTION:  And I know you’ve got to go, but Mika and I just want to thank you so much and the entire Brzezinski family want to thank you for your recent speech at Johns Hopkins.

QUESTION:  The School of Advanced International Studies, their new home at 565 Pennsylvania Avenue, and the Brzezinski Lecture.

QUESTION:  The Brzezinski Lecture.  So we thank you so much for doing that.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  It was an honor to do it.  You know, Mika, I really revered your dad.  I got to spend some time with him, got to learn a lot from him.  So being able to do that lecture meant a lot.

QUESTION:  All right, it means a lot for us.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Thank you so much.

QUESTION:  And thank you so much for being here.  Secretary of State Antony Blinken, greatly appreciate it.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

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