Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian
FOREIGN MINISTER LE DRIAN: (Via interpreter) (In progress) Welcome back. It is excellent news for all of us that America is back. It has come back to the values that we share, come back to an imperative that we share, democracy. It has come back to multilateralism that we built together, and it is our responsibility to continue with it intensively.
These values, universal values, these democratic (inaudible) demand and this joint horizon, such are the foundations of what we share. And this is what France and the Europeans had to fight for alone far too often for four very long years against these attacks that continue. I’m very pleased that we are back together and we – that we can work together in order to preserve this international order based on cooperation and the law.
Since the beginning of the year, together with Antony Blinken, we’ve been working in order to sustain this momentum by renewing a constant and confident – constant and confident dialogue which is indispensable for both our countries. Indispensable because the challenges that we face need all of our determination and all of our energy when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate emergency, the fight against the global inequalities. And the time as well, it is indispensable because we are, at the moment, witnessing an international life which is becoming more and more brittle. It is therefore a strategic imperative that we strengthen our alliance and meet at a bilateral level or within the relationship between the EU and the United States or within the balanced nature.
Like President Biden and yourself, you commended the efforts made by the Europeans within NATO to play their role. We all acknowledge that we are stronger together, stronger when it comes to fighting terrorism. And as you know, in the Sahel in particular and in the Levant and in the Sahel, we are undergoing a deep transformation of the French (inaudible) that is underway, and we’re very – like I told the Secretary of State, we very much wish the United States to continue to provide their support to the initiative.
We’re stronger as well when it comes to dealing with global crisis when that threatens our security interests. We were in Berlin two days ago, and we want to make sure that when it comes to Libya, we can obtain together the removal of the foreign forces, mercenaries, in compliance with the timeline for the political transition and in view of the elections on the 24th of December.
Stronger regarding Libya, but also on the Iranian matter, we are expecting the Iranian authorities to take the last decisions, probably difficult ones that will enable us to quickly come back to the full implementation of the Vienna accord.
It is true as well when it comes to the crisis in Lebanon, dear Tony, and I am pleased that this morning we noted not only that we share the same views, the same analysis of the situation: the terrible collapse of this country, the inability of the political leaders of this country to meet any aspect of the challenge. And we both also acknowledge that it would be such a tragedy if this country was to fall apart, would disappear. We noted all of that and we, ladies and gentlemen, decided to act together – to act together in order to exert pressure on those (inaudible). We know who they are, and it is not – the solution is not about immobility. So we agreed to take together some strong initiatives in order to unlock the situation. It is a matter of respect for the Lebanese people (inaudible) in order to preserve the stability of the Euro-Atlantic region, and some major decisions were taken on the occasion of the recent NATO summit. So we will be able to implement – to continue the strategic reflection initiated in 2019.
We will continue to feed the dialogue with Russia, particularly on arms control, and we share to that effect the same stance and approach of firmness made within NATO or within the European Union in order to continue our joint action.
We also talked about Armenia and Azerbaijan. We will continue to exchange on this matter and to coordinate our actions.
Being stronger, it’s also about being stronger in the Indo-Pacific region, which must absolutely remain a free and open space, and that requires a balanced approach vis-a-vis China. Of course, we discussed this matter as well in order to try and define this balance, and we agree on the necessity of our cooperation to adopt a lucid and pragmatic approach to what China means to us. That is, China is both a partner, a competitor, and a rival.
In addition, dear Tony, the relationship between France and the United States is a historic friendship, and we both, you and I, share some special responsibility. It is about respecting this background, but also keeping it alive.
And so to conclude, I have the pleasure of mentioning a beautiful project which (inaudible) couple of days, a network of (inaudible) on the American factory (inaudible) Albertine (inaudible) Villa Kujoyama in Kyoto. We will now have a Villa Albertine in the United States, but with a very new concept, (inaudible) to conclude my words to the press on this.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is a summary of our discussion this morning. We will continue our discussions in July on the occasion of my visit to the United States in mid-July, and we will have an opportunity to see each other again and to continue these very friendly and dense discussions on that occasion.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via interpreter) Dear Jean-Yves, thank you for welcoming me so warmly. On a personal note, I would like to say how delighted I am to be here in France. It’s my second homeland, and I lived here for 10 years – over 10 years.
(In English) I’m also delighted that we were able to reunite so soon after the G7 at the NATO summit, the U.S.-EU Leaders Meeting. I think it’s a signal of how important, how foundational the friendship between France and the United States is to both our countries – our oldest ally and an alliance that we are now revitalizing even more for the challenges that we have to face, as you said, together.
As a kid in Paris, I learned how the values that the American people cherish are also cherished by the French. We throw these words around, but we actually give them meaning. France gives them meaning; the United States gives them meaning, at least on our best days – liberty, freedom of speech and thought, equality, every person’s right to be treated fairly and with dignity. I experienced how our cultures are so profoundly entwined, how French kids, at least when I was here, listened to American music. American kids watched French movies – actually now, French TV.
(Via interpreter) The Bureau, Call My Agent, and Lupin.
(In English) If I have circles under my eyes, it’s because I stay up too late at night binge-watching these programs. (Laughter.)
And of course, I learned at a young age how much history our countries share, going back to the very start of the United States when France stood with us in our fight for freedom. Our partnership has been indispensable over so many years in meeting the challenges of the past. But it is, I think, even more indispensable now as we meet the challenges before us and that are having a real impact on the lives of our citizens, like stopping COVID-19, rising to the challenge of climate change, maintaining our joint security, defending our democratic values. As President Biden said again at the EU last week, the best way for our countries to deal with these challenges is by working together.
That includes through multilateralism. I’m visiting France, Germany, and Italy on this trip because, in addition to being our closest and strongest partners, these are also the only three countries that are members of the EU, NATO, and the G7. In the lead-up to the three summits and then at the summits themselves, our countries did important work together. And now we need to follow up on the steps we took – that’s exactly what we were doing this morning with the foreign minister and what I look forward to doing with President Macron later this afternoon – and also lay the groundwork for future collaborations. That includes our work at NATO to ensure the Alliance has the capabilities it needs to meet new threats, our agreement at the U.S.-EU summit to cooperate on setting the highest standards for trade and technology, and our work through the G7 to provide a billion vaccines to the world, to end support for coal-fired power plants, to move ahead on much-needed infrastructure development and projects in developing countries through the Build Back Better World initiative.
We very much look forward to working closely with our French counterparts and with France when France becomes president of the Council of the European Union in January. Jean-Yves, I think that’s an important moment for continuing to raise the level of ambition in the U.S.-EU relationship, and I think you agree with that proposition.
And as the foreign minister said, we are key partners together in dealing with regional and global security challenges. Together we’re going to support a sovereign, stable, unified, secure Libya, as we discussed together in Berlin just a couple of days ago. And we’ll see each other again in Rome in a couple of days to strengthen the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh and to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria, particularly through cross-border assistance.
We greatly value France’s leadership to counterterrorism in the Sahel region. We will continue to stand together in the Sahel. And with France, we’ll help our African partners work to address the drivers of economic, political, and social instability and bring security, stability, and good governance to their people.
We’re also working together to address the horrific violence and humanitarian crisis in the Tigray region of Ethiopia and the governance and economic crisis in Lebanon, as Jean-Yves discussed. For over a year and a half, the Lebanese people have demanded transparency, accountability, and an end to the endemic corruption and mismanagement that is causing such hardship. The United States, France, the international community stand ready to help Lebanon – a Lebanon that is committed to meaningful change, but we need to see real leadership in Beirut.
And of course, we’re pursuing a shared approach to dealing with the challenges posed by China and Russia to the free and open rules-based international order.
Let me just briefly as well mention that, of course, we are very, very important economic partners. We’ll keep growing our trade and investment relationship. The United States is the largest foreign investor in France. We’re the top destination for French investment. Hundreds of thousands of Americans work for French companies, and vice versa. Deepening our economic ties will be critical not only for our economic recovery but also to our future competitiveness. And we’ll keep sustaining our people-to-people exchanges, and I am very enthusiastic about the initiative that Jean-Yves is launching. Thousands of American students come to France every year to study and discover for themselves how welcoming and, indeed, life-changing this country is, as I experienced myself. And we will continue to stand for our shared values of human rights and democracy around the world.
Democracies are facing new threats, also new opportunities. We have to bring together new ideas to the table to help democracies become more resilient, more effective at promoting representative, equitable societies. Together, we must and we will demonstrate that democracies can deliver for their citizens and for people around the world. I think that’s the challenge of our time. We have no better partner than France in pursuing it. Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER LE DRIAN: (Via interpreter) Are you the moderator?
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Yes. First question, Virginie Robert from Les Echos on the French side.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Good morning, Mr. Minister. You talked about the importance of the economic ties between France and the United States, which are very much troubled today by the impossibility of traveling to the United States. Could you please tell us when that will be possible again?
And Minister Le Drian, you talked about a more balanced relationship within NATO. Nonetheless, there are some stronger disagreements as to this organization. How – and China – how can you deal with that?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: With regard to travel, look, we are anxious to be able to restore travel as fully and as quickly as possible. We’re very much guided by the science, by our medical experts. That has to be the foundational principle on which we’re looking at this. We have a working group established with the European Union on this question, and all I can tell you – I can’t put a date on it. I can tell you we’re working very actively on this right now, and we are – like France, like our other partners in Europe – both anxious and looking forward to restoring travel. But we have to be guided by the science. We have to be guided by medical expertise.
FOREIGN MINISTER LE DRIAN: (Via interpreter) What was the question? (Inaudible) “Chinese-ation” of NATO? I was not aware of your concept because I can’t see the connection between the Atlantic Ocean and China. Is there a border? It is something very new today.
There were no disagreement between us as to the future of NATO, quite to the contrary, and I believe that this summit gives some – is a new start for NATO. It clearly identifies its purpose, putting back at the forefront our community of values, which are very much at the heart or the foundation of our Alliance, and saying as well – and that when we have a community of values, if there are some disagreements within the Alliance, they are to be dealt with based on the concept we agree upon. These values – you see who I am referring to – and we also agreed, as President Biden has said very strongly, that the European Union was a central element in the new relationship that we want to put in place within the Alliance when it comes to giving some new momentum to the Alliance. And we also agreed regarding the relationship with Russia.
As to China, I believe as well that things are clear between us. That was not the issue. Like I said earlier, we have a very close analysis with the three pillars I mentioned. We have both partners. China has partners, and we have to be partners when it comes to a number of issues, which are relevant to the entire planet. Given the importance of this country that – on climate, biodiversity, health, we are partners, but we’re also competitors because (inaudible) to a number of major economic, technological issues or innovation. We are competitors, so we had to make sure that we – our own interests are being respected and make sure that the same standards are applied on both sides so that it is fair.
And then we are rivals because on a number of topics, we (inaudible) to different models, ours and theirs. And in this respect, we stand very firm as to our demands, and I have in mind in particular the situation in the Xinjiang. This is it. So the three pillars will have to be combined depending on the particular point in time. The emergency or the focus might be more on one or another at different point in times, but we agreed to strike the right balance and – given that we share the same views on China. This is what I can tell you about China and NATO.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Let me just add if I can, I think I wouldn’t have changed a word of what Jean-Yves just said. I think what we have seen, especially over the last few weeks, both at the G7, at NATO, and at the EU is a convergence of views on how to deal together with the challenges posed by China. And to the foreign minister’s point, we see it the same way. It’s, for all of us, a complicated relationship that has adversarial aspects, competitive ones, and cooperative ones. But the common denominator is that we’re going to be much more effective in engaging across these different aspects of the relationship if we do it together, and that’s what I think you saw come out of the three summits that we had, as well as the meeting between President Macron and President Biden.
MR PRICE: Our first question goes to Shaun Tandon of the AFP.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Mr. Secretary, if I may begin, Afghanistan. President Ghani is in the United States today. There is an intelligence report warning that Kabul could fall as soon as six months after the U.S. withdrawal. How concerned are you about this? Is this motivating you to expedite contingency plans, particularly to protect the embassy and other U.S. interests?
If I may, can I ask both of you about Russia?
(Via interpreter) Mr. Minister, what is your message to European countries that are responding to the issue of a meeting with President Putin?
(In English.) And on the same question on Russia, President Macron has talked about having a seat at the table in arms talks with – to the United States and Russia. Does the United States support that? And would you support France and Germany moving along with Putin? Thanks.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I’m happy to start. Let me just quickly start with the last question you asked. When it comes to strategic stability talks, arms control talks, there’s a very basic and simple principle, which is – for our friends and partners, which is nothing about you without you. So of course, European interests are implicated in any discussions we may have with Russia about strategic stability, and we will be in close coordination with France, with our partners if and as these talks move forward.
With regard to Afghanistan, a few things. I just want to reiterate an important point that sometimes gets lost, which is that even as we are withdrawing our forces from Afghanistan, we are not disengaging from Afghanistan; to the contrary. We’re working very hard to sustain a strong, diplomatic presence – not only our diplomatic presence, but with partners as well to sustain many of the programs that we’ve had in place to support Afghanistan economically: development assistance, humanitarian assistance, assistance to the Afghan security forces.
And President Ghani in Washington will be talking about all of that with President Biden, and I know the President will be reaffirming that ongoing support for Afghanistan, support that other countries will continue as well. At the same time, we’re watching the situation very, very closely, very carefully. We’re also working to make good on our obligations to those who helped us with the Special Immigrant Visa program, and I know the White House has discussed that in recent days.
FOREIGN MINISTER LE DRIAN: (Via interpreter) A few words on Russia given that you asked me about it. Two things, simply: First, we can only acknowledge the authoritarian trend in this country in various aspects, but in particular with something which is very much of a symbol, Mr. Navalny. We also see then there is a trend of intimidation by this country, and recently, we saw it in particular close to Ukraine. We can see also a trend of interference. So in each of these situations, we condemn, we adopt sanctions, and we stand extremely firm.
That being said, it is important to talk to Russia. Of course, it’s not about being naive about – talk to Russia. This is what President Macron did in August 2019 when he invited President Putin to come and talk. This is what President Biden just did because it is a great country. Because first it is our neighbor, and also because it is important that we have a stable relationship with this country, (inaudible). And it is in the name of these principles that we would like to maintain this dialogue. It does not prevent us from standing firm, like we said earlier.
But of course, Europe, as well, need to talk to Russia at a high level, and mainly because there is a major issue, which is arms control. And over the past few month, we witnessed the de-organization – deconstruction of the regulation system of weapons that – the system that was put in place in – at the end of the ’90s on the strategic armaments. And luckily, we have New START being extended, but we also have the issue of the intermediate nuclear forces. And all of these regulations are a matter of security to prevent any accident or incidence, to provide some relative transparency. All of that does not exist anymore, so this is what is at stake – the interest to rebuild, to begin to rebuild all of that. It was discussed by President Biden and President Putin, and this is what we will be working on together based on a common agenda.
So we need to talk to have a strategic stability, to have relational stability between the Europeans and the great neighbor. And all of the initiatives aiming at talking with a willingness of dialogue are there. And they’re not – the Americans, while they’re specialist in dialogue with Russia, and the Europeans are special experts in sanctions, we need both, and this is what we’re doing.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: And I’m sorry, I realized I didn’t get to the part of your question on Afghanistan. We are seeing elevated attacks on the Afghan security forces and in certain parts of the country compared to a year ago. No increase in attacks on our forces, on the NATO forces that remain. Had we not begun the process of drawing down our military forces, based on the agreement reached by the previous administration with the Taliban, our assessment is the status quo would not have held. The attacks that we’re seeing now and other attacks almost certainly would have commenced, including potentially attacks on provincial capitals.
So the status quo was not an option. But we’re looking very carefully at the situation on the ground in Afghanistan, and we’re also looking very hard at whether the Taliban is at all serious about a peaceful resolution to the conflict. We continue to be engaged on the diplomacy, but actions that would try to take the country by force are, of course, totally inconsistent with finding a peaceful resolution.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Question from Alexandra Brangeon, RFI.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Mr. Minister, good morning, Secretary of State. You both mentioned the fight against terrorism in the Sahel. Since the inception of the G5 Sahel, France has been asking for this force to be under a mandate of the United Nations. Secretary of State, given the reduction of the staff or the transformation of Barkhane, is that a game-changer? Could it have an impact on the American policy? And like an American colleague of mine was asking, what’s the “can”?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I think I will – if it’s all right, I will – we’ll stick with English, but let me just say a few things here. As I said earlier, we are strong partners in the Sahel, and I actually had an opportunity very early on in my tenure as Secretary of State to take part in the G5 Sahel summit. That was back in February. We are continuing to strengthen our own approach to the region, but we have been the closest of partners together, and that partnership will continue. We very much understand the work that France is doing to recalibrate the approach, and I think we share the view that working to build the capacity of local partners to take on counterterrorism is the right approach. It makes a good deal of sense. But we’ll also very much continue to support the ongoing efforts that France is leading in the region.
As to structurally how this goes forward, that’s something that we’re talking about. But I can tell you that in terms of our support for the ongoing efforts in the Sahel that France will be making, that, that we’ll be making the other – that support will very much continue. We’ll continue to coordinate very closely, and to support one another in pursuit of our shared regional interests.
MR PRICE: Our final question, we’ll go to Karen DeYoung of The Washington Post.
FOREIGN MINISTER LE DRIAN: (Via interpreter) If I may, a few words on this topic, which I know somehow. First of all, I can only rejoice about the fact that our decisions are properly understood, and – about the American willingness to continue to cooperate with us in the Sahel. The good understanding of our decision means that we continue to consider counterterrorism as a priority, in particular in the Sahel. So this fight will continue, but in a different military format. And it is not the first time we’ll adapt to the new deal of the threat.
And like I was telling Tony Blinken earlier, when I was at the time minister of defense, when we launched the Serval Operation in the Sahel and then we launched the Barkhane operation, and now we’re launching a new operation. It doesn’t have a name yet, but it is about adapting to the situation, it is about having a new model, probably with a less of a presence, of a footprint, but a stronger determination to cooperate with greater Sahel involvement, more of an international element, and more involvement of the special forces specialized in counter operations – counterterrorism in particular with – thanks to the Europeans and in particular in the Takuba Operation. France will remain the key element in it. We will have other opportunities to talk about this in Rome early next week.
I believe there was one last question. We agreed to take four questions, and then we’ll have to get —
QUESTION: Thank you. I’d like to ask a question about the Iran talks to both of you. Actually, it’s a question that has three parts. The State Department said yesterday that the talks cannot go on indefinitely and that at some point, if an agreement is not reached, the United States and its partners would have to regroup. Is there a point at which Iran’s qualitative gains in advancing its nuclear program would go too far and it becomes impossible to return to the JCPOA as written?
Also, there’s been no announcement as of yet of an agreement between Iran and the IAEA to extend the temporary monitoring agreement that expired yesterday, and I wonder how much of a concern that is to you.
And finally Iranian President-elect Raisi has been accused by numerous human rights groups of serious rights abuses dating back to the 1980s. Can the United States in all consciousness – conscientiousness, lift its sanctions against him without a proper international probe into those allegations? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you, Karen. A few things here. We still have serious differences with Iran with regard to returning to mutual compliance with the JCPOA. Our teams are going back for a seventh round of indirect negotiations in the coming days. We’ll see if we can bridge the differences, but they’re real, and we have to – we have to be able to bridge them. I would tell you that with regard to the IAEA this remains a serious concern, a concern that we’ve communicated to Iran, and it needs to be – needs to be resolved.
At some point – you’re right – if Iran continues to spin ever more sophisticated centrifuges at higher degrees, if it pursues other aspects of its program that were prohibited by the JCPOA, there will come a point, yes, where it will be very hard to return back to the standards set by the JCPOA of ensuring extensive breakout – breakout time – that is, the amount of time it would take Iran produce fissile materials for a nuclear weapon if it makes that decision, which I think adds some urgency to this effort. But we haven’t reached that point. I can’t put a date on it, but it’s something that we are conscious of. Having said that, we are only going to reach an agreement with Iran if it makes good on its obligations under the JCPOA. And again, we’re just not there yet, so we’ll see.
In terms of the last question, look, this is about pursuing our fundamental interests. And an Iran with a nuclear weapon or with a capacity to produce one on very short order is an Iran that is even more dangerous than it already is – an Iran can act with even greater impunity when it comes to supporting terrorism, destabilizing the region, engaging in proliferation. So we have a national interest in trying to put the nuclear problem back in the box that it was in under the JCPOA that unfortunately it is now out of. And at the same time in doing that, we will retain all of the necessary tools to deal with Iran’s actions in other areas that are profoundly dangerous and destabilizing.
In fact, I think we’ll be in a better position to do that, particularly since we’ll be united with our allies and partners on this. So our focus – irrespective of individuals, irrespective of leaders – is in pursuing the national interest, and we believe that if we can get back to compliance with the JCPOA, an agreement that was working that had put the nuclear program in a box, it would be in the national interest.
FOREIGN MINISTER LE DRIAN: (Inaudible) have to add to the Iranian issue further to what Tony just said. Except maybe, but he knows that well that the United Kingdom, France, and Germany held on good for the sake of our house for a number of years, which means that today we can revive the JCPOA. Without the determined vigilance on our part to keep the Vienna Accord alive, today we would not be renegotiating. And I must say that the coordination between the teams of the three European states and with the negotiators of the United States, all of that is happening and going well.
It’s been six weeks since the negotiations started again. Some progress was achieved, and we will now be entering the most difficult times. It will require some strong and courageous decisions on behalf of the new Iranian authorities, but now is the time. We are at the end of the process in the hard time, but there is some spirit, a mindset which I hope will remain and will enable an agreement, because, of course, it would be pointless to continue for too long. At some point in time, we’ll have to be back to the JCPOA, the 2015 accord.
It’s important even though we are not there yet, even though there were some major gestures, including on behalf of the United States of America. But then that will not be the end of it, like Tony was saying, because beyond the JCPOA there will be the issue of the sustainability of preserving the military nuclear element beyond the dates of the JCPOA.
We will also have to include in the regional dimension – make sure there is a forum in order to stabilize the region. And we will also need to take onboard the old issue of arms transfers, of the missiles coming from Iran. And we will have to articulate so the end of – we will have to articulate the JCPOA with all of these issues, and we are being optimistic – moderately optimistic, but nonetheless optimistic. Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: It is the end of it. I’m sorry.