December 2, 2022

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Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly At a Conversation with Rising Leaders – United States Department of State

15 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Montreal, Canada

Biosphere

(Via interpreter.)

MS ST VICTOR: (In progress) call you Mélanie?  Actually, we know each other quite well, Madam Minister.  It’s a pleasure to see you where you’re from here, and Mr. Secretary Blinken, it’s an honor to have you here in Montreal and to be able to carry out this conversation in French.  You are Secretary of State, but in your mini-bio on Twitter, you said that you are an amateur guitar player.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yes, underline “amateur.”

MS ST VICTOR:  And some people actually saw you on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and you were actually very good.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, we played with the sound.

MS ST VICTOR:  I’m delighted to see so many people here, so many young leaders, so many students here today.  And I’m delighted to see that the relationship between Canada and the U.S. is doing well since February 2021.  This roadmap was created by Prime Minister Trudeau and President Biden.  Can you tell us about this unique relationship between Canada and the U.S.?

FOREIGN MINISTER JOLY:  We have a very good relationship between the U.S. and Canada.  It’s historical.  We share a culture, geographical common points, and we’ve also spent a lot of time together in the last year.  It’s only been a year since I was appointed to this post, and I’ve seen Tony twice in Washington, I’ve seen him twice in Berlin.  We met in Los Angeles, in Bali.  In short, it’s been a whirlwind of events since I became foreign minister and we became friends.  It’s important in diplomacy because it makes it possible to move issues forward because we have trust, and it makes it possible to have a beautiful relationship between Canada and the U.S.  And I would like to say that today this collaboration is very important to manage stakes at a high level in the world.

MS ST VICTOR:  Mr. Secretary, how would you qualify the relationship with Minister Joly, but also this very strong bond with Canada?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We cannot go around it.  We need Canada.  We need partnerships.  We need to be able to coordinate on all of the issues at hand.  And when we look at what’s ahead of us and what has a real impact on the lives of citizens such as yourselves or in the U.S., whether it be the climate issue, the issue related to health – global health – or the impact of new technologies on our lives, we are not able to do this alone, whether it be Canada or the U.S.  We’re not able to manage those issues on our own.  We need to work together.

And we start working with those partners that share the same values as us and that share our interests.  When I started at this job, President Biden told me to make sure that our partnerships be energized again, and we started with our closest partners, including Canada.

FOREIGN MINISTER JOLY:  If I may, Martine, it’s important to work as a coalition nowadays because we know that the world order is changing nowadays and we are seeing autocracies on the rise and democracies being tested.  But we’re seeing a wave of solidarity, especially on Ukraine or on issues dealing with young women that are defending their rights in Iran.  At the same time, we need to work with the U.S., we need to work with Europe, but also with all these other countries that are currently defending peace and stability throughout the world.

MS ST VICTOR:  You said a few interesting thing – coalition, solidarity, values, trust, and challenge.  Well, a challenge that seems enormous today – I’m from the Haitian diaspora.  There are 150,000 of us here in Montreal.  What will you say to – what would you say to Haitians and to the members of the diaspora to assure them?  Because we see an apprehension towards the operation that will unfold on the ground shortly, and I believe that this apprehension comes from the fact that we’re not able to visualize what this force would be – could be made up of.  Could you tell us if you have any more details what this force on the ground could be?

FOREIGN MINISTER JOLY:  First of all, we need to be realistic and pragmatic on how we approach Haiti.  The current situation, Martine, is catastrophic.  There is a cholera epidemic.  People cannot drink potable water.  There’s no gas to be used for generators that are used by hospitals.  We are in a state of affairs – we know that Haiti has seen enormous challenges in the past, but today the situation is getting worse and worse.

We all need to take off our rose-tinted glasses and look at the situation.  We know that we’re able to work together to help Haitians, to help them take care of themselves.  And as I said many times, this is going to be by and for Haitians.  Short term, we need to work on the security issues, and we need to stop the blockage of the Varreux terminal that is blocked by the gangs, and especially the gang leader with the funny name, Barbecue.  We need to work on this first and foremost.

Secondly, there’s a humanitarian crisis at play.  We need to be able to help women and girls so that they can go to school, so that they can function in their day-to-day lives, and to – we need to make sure that people can go to work.  The country is paralyzed and has been paralyzed for 40 days, if not more.

In the end, there is a political crisis.  We work with the people that are currently in office.  We work with the current president.  However, we know that we need to make sure that there is a political process that will lead us to a democratic solution.  The status quo does not work.

The United Nations called upon us to ask us if we could help.  Our goal is to lend a hand.  We don’t want to intervene.  We don’t want to impose.  We want to help.  We have an obligation to help.  This is why I’m delighted to be working with the Haitian community here in Montreal and the diaspora, because I can hear your concerns.  Martine and I have common friends, I know, but I hear this cry for help.  And Canada is one of the best friends of Haiti, and we can help.

And we need to ensure that there are regional forces that are involved, that CARICOM is involved.  The prime minister has to have conversations with CARICOM.  We sent equipment to Haiti last week and we are working with the African Union as well.  We talked with the president of the Organization for Francophonie, and we are trying to mobilize forces on the ground.  However, we need to be honest about the current situation.

MS ST VICTOR:  Mr. Secretary?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I can only reiterate what was said by Mélanie.  We are informed by history and we are motivated by what is happening today.  There’s enormous challenge for the Haitian people – enormous, terrible suffering – and we all agree that we need to act and we need to do something.  But we need to support solutions that are native to Haiti, and we need to underscore the problem linked to the gangs.

We have a small minority of gangs that are controlling access to everything that is necessary to respond to the problem, the problems that are facing the Haitian people.  There are the elites that are directing them, that are funding them, and the government is not controlling anything.  So for people to have access to potable water, to medication, when the ports and the roads are blocked by these gangs and by the elites that are controlling them – hence the sanctions that we will be imposing together in order to exert pressure on the elites that control the gangs.

For months now, we helped the national police force in Haiti.  We gave equipment, including armored vehicles.  However, we’re noticing that it is necessary to do more to support the national police forces in order to reinstate control.  And we also want political transition and eventually elections, but how can you have elections when the Haitian people cannot go about their business in the country?  So we need to resolve this issue of insecurity first and foremost.  This is a problem that will mostly focus on helping the national police, and we need the help of the international community to do so.

FOREIGN MINISTER JOLY:  The international community has been present in Haiti for years, maybe not since 2019 – well, there’s been the COVID pandemic; there’s been another earthquake.  So we do have a legal – a moral obligation, and Martine, I would love to work together with you and with the community to hear their point of view.  I can hear their anxiety, but I also hear this cry for help.

MS ST VICTOR:  That would be great.  You don’t have to ask twice.

We have a number of questions.  We will start with Marion.  Marion, we will be giving you a microphone in a minute.

QUESTION:  Hello, thank you so much for being here and for the time you’re giving us.  I am a PhD candidate here, and I focus on the constant – contestation movement in Lebanon that started in 2019.  You talked about the current world order that is being questioned and all the challenges such as climate change and the war in Ukraine, but also a lot of criticism of this world order that is not feminist enough and colonial.  So what can happen to maintain peace and to make sure that international order remains?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I’m happy to start.  I believe that we need to wonder why this order was even put in place in the first place.  We had two world wars last century, and we wanted to avoid a third.  Countries got together to try to agree on rules, on principles along with the United Nations.  And we have the UN Charter for – the universal charter for human rights, and we have international law that has also (inaudible) in the second part of the last century.  But when this order was instated, the world was very different from today’s world.  And many countries which did not take part in the creation of this world order, all these groups that were excluded, want to be included now.  And for us, it’s a matter of maintaining this order because the alternative is a situation in which the law of the jungle rules the world.  We’ve seen what happens when one powerful country tries to impose its will; we’re seeing it right now in Ukraine.

All the while, we also need to make sure that the order reflects the current situation.  This is not something that should be set in stone; this is something that should evolve over time.  We see all sorts of groups and countries that have been marginalized in the past, and these need to be – need to feel included in this order and in all of the rules.  We are doing a lot of important work.  For example, at the UN Security Council, we’re working with the five permanent members that were instated at the beginning of the UN and we’re making sure that there’s a larger representation for Africa, namely, and for Asia.  Many things reflect – that can reflect the world we live in, but the world we will be living in.

MS ST VICTOR:  Yes, Marion.

FOREIGN MINISTER JOLY:  The more the international order is contested, the more instability there is, and Canada’s position is to work on peace and stability.  The rules are the same whether you live in a superpower or a very large country like – very important country like ours.  In the end, we need to make sure that the rules are abided by.

You’re working on Lebanon – an example of international collaboration would be this agreement that the UN was able to put in place in Ukraine, in Odessa to make it possible to export grains from the port of Odessa all the way to Lebanon.  We know the situation in Lebanon is very difficult, that there is a food crisis throughout the world that is affecting Lebanon, the Middle East, and Africa.  This agreement made it possible to save the lives of thousands or even millions of people, and we are now exerting pressures through the UN and the U.S. – also at the UN Security Council to make sure that Russia maintains its commitment to this agreement.  Otherwise, we would have a worse food crisis and the price of food will go up even more.

It is an example – it is a very concrete example that shows that multilateralism works.  It’s not perfect, but it works.  It can give us more security in some countries.  So your question was great, and good luck with your dissertation, but I think you understand the position of Canada.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  And just one more thing because you talked about Lebanon.  Thanks to diplomacy, we reached an agreement between Lebanon and Israel on their sea border that will make it possible for both countries to use the resources that are in the ocean – or the sea – all the while avoiding another crisis or a war between the two countries that could end up costing a lot for both countries.  And that is the role of diplomacy and multilateralism in order to resolve problems, to avoid problems, and to create opportunities for the future.

MS ST VICTOR:  Thank you, Marion, for your question.

Melissa is next.

QUESTION:  I am a member of a native nation and we know that climate changes are having an impact on native peoples in the north and the south.  Is there anything going on between the U.S. and Canada to fight against those impacts?  Because we know that native peoples have rights that cross borders.

FOREIGN MINISTER JOLY:  Thank you for this question.  A couple things.  Obviously what we’re doing at foreign affairs is to work on reconciliation.  When we negotiated at the time the new NAFTA we integrated this issue.

On the issue of climate change, at the moment this is a matter of great importance.  Our minister of the environment is working hard on this issue, and what we are doing concretely speaking is preparing for COP27 that is right around the corner in Egypt.  It needs to be a success.  I just spoke to the president of the African Union two days ago on this very matter because we need to ensure that African states are able to benefit from the investments that are made by us in order to help them manage the issues of climate change.

In December, Canada will be hosting an important conference on biodiversity.  The goal is to further protect biodiversity.  We know that fauna, flora, all of this is extremely affected by climate change.  And even within NATO, a military defense alliance, we recognize that the matter of climate change had its importance and its was integrated into the Strategic Concept.

In Canada, here in Montreal once again – we’re the best, I’m sorry.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I can see that you talk about Montreal a lot.

FOREIGN MINISTER JOLY:  Yes, Montreal is very important.  We will be the Center of Excellence for NATO on matters related to climate change.  I would love to hear what you have to say about integrating native reconciliation in all of this.  Canada is very focused on this.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  And this is something we’re working on jointly as well.  It’s an existential question for all of us – for you, for us.  Not that long ago when we talked about the challenge of climate, people recognized it was a problem but it will be tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.  Now we’re recognizing that it is happening today, and we need to act, and we need to face this existential problem.  We can be pessimistic about our ability to face this challenge.  I remain optimistic – realistic but optimistic.

When we were together at COP26 we brought forward a declaration, a statement, for the elimination or the reduction of methane gas by 30 percent by 2030.  We are now – now we’re looking at most countries committing to this.  If everyone did this, this would be the equivalent of removing all vehicles and all the ships and all the planes that are currently out in the world in terms of emissions.  So we can have a real impact.  We can do what is needed to maintain the 1.5 degree Celsius rise of temperate.

By the same token, this very morning we – together we went to see a company called Lithion.  They created something that is remarkable.  They had the ability to make electric car batteries by using used batteries and by using 90 percent of what was used and potentially discarded, and including lithium.  All of this is in a virtuous cycle.  They’re able to create new batteries out of old ones, and they can be put into vehicles, and it’s a cycle.  There is a current partnership between Canada and this company with the support of the government and a partnership between the U.S. and Canada because several U.S. companies have invested in this venture in Canada, so there is a PPP and support from the public sector here.

And there’s going to be a supply chain that goes across both countries that will continue this virtual – virtuous cycle.  And it is very promising for the future because we all have – we’ll all have cars with electric batteries, and we all do, and to know that we can recycle 90 percent of them to be able to use them again is very powerful.  When I see something like we saw this morning, I feel optimistic in terms of facing those challenges.  And again, it’s in Montreal – (laughter) – by chance.

MS ST VICTOR:  Thank you, Melissa and thank you for the engineering here in Montreal.  Next question.

QUESTION:   Hello, my name is Satcha.  I am a master’s student in public affairs – international public affairs at the university here.  I have two questions about the Arctic.  First, what are the priorities of Canada and the U.S. in the Arctic?  And secondly, can Canada and the U.S. do without Russia that is currently aggressing Ukraine but also an important partner in the Arctic?

FOREIGN MINISTER JOLY:  Well, first of all, the arctic is very important for Canada.  The prime minister and Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg and myself, who were in the Canadian Arctic this summer, and we reinvested in NORAD.  At the same time, on a diplomatic front, we worked on a new – or rather the Americans worked on a new Arctic Strategy that we took due note of, and we are starting the new dialogue between the U.S. and Canada on the Arctic.

For me, as I said, it is a priority because we know that tensions have gone up in the world.  We are neighbors of Russia.  As a result, we need to pay close attention to what’s happening in the arctic.  There’s also China that decided – or declared that they were a near-Arctic state.  With climate change having an impact on glaciers melting and on the ocean, other countries will be able to navigate the Arctic to go from point A to point B faster.  This becomes a security and a sovereignty issue for Canada.  This is why I talk about an Indo‑Pacific strategy.  We all want to reinforce our presence in the Indo-Pacific region and in the North Pacific, but also the next steps will be to work on the Arctic.  And I would be delighted to work on the issue of climate change, on collaboration with native people, and on the issues related to security in the arctic because I think the three are important.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Our point of view is the same: we are Arctic countries.  We both have deep interests, but we start from the idea that this region needs to remain at peace.  It needs to be a region for collaboration, cooperation where we can face climate change together, we can support native peoples.  That is what motivates our strategy.  There’s more and more – there are more and more political challenges involved because of the situation with Russia, but Canada and the U.S. and the other members of the Arctic Council want, at any cost, to maintain this area of peace and cooperation.

It is more and more important because it is more and more rare in the world.  And this is our starting point.  But supporting those who live in the Arctic is very important for us and for Canada.  And the idea of having an environment that is sustainable with development, with respect for the environment, that makes it possible for us to face climate change threats – are very important.  And I believe that we can swap our strategies out; it’s the same thing.  And we’re working together with other Arctic Council members.  That’s what will make the difference.

FOREIGN MINISTER JOLY:  Two important points to add.  Canada was the first country to ratify the accession of Norway and Sweden to NATO.  So now seven of the eight countries in the Arctic Council are members of NATO, and we want to make sure that we can work with the Americans but also with the Scandinavians.

When it comes to Russia, generally speaking the Arctic Council has been suspended, and next year Norway will be at the chair of the Arctic Council and we will be working on these matters with them.

MS ST VICTOR:  Thank you for these questions.

More from: Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

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