Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
FOREIGN MINISTER BAERBOCK: (Via interpreter) Ladies and gentlemen, dear Tony, very warm welcome once again. And in an official manner, I warmly welcome you to Berlin.
Can you hear the interpreter? Can you hear the interpreter? Can anyone hear the interpreter?
(In English.) Now we know German and English.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much. Please.
FOREIGN MINISTER BAERBOCK: (Via interpreter) So I repeat what I just said in German at the address of our American colleagues. A very warm welcome, ladies and gentlemen, dear Tony. I bid you a very cordial welcome to Berlin today in a week that has indeed been a very intensive one and eventful one for both of us, and will continue to be a very intensive and eventful week for you. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to have a direct meeting today.
You’ve just come from Kyiv, where I happen to be on Monday. Your talks with our Russian colleagues are scheduled for tomorrow in Geneva. I met him only two days ago in Moscow. Today, before we met bilaterally, we met in the so-called Quad, thus we met with the French and British colleagues.
So if this week illustrates anything, then it illustrates that the diplomatic efforts in various formats around the topic of Russia and Ukraine, and the coordination and consultation amongst us allies couldn’t be more intensive than it is. And that is exactly what we agreed when we met in person only recently in Washington, D.C. at the beginning of the month. We agreed then that we would continue to consult very closely and also consult and coordinate closely with our other partners.
So today we continue seamlessly where we left off at the time. And when we look back to what has been happening recently, the engagements and discussions in the framework of the NATO-Russia Council, in the OSCE, and in the European Union – but also the many bilateral meetings – it is fair to say that we’ve used the meetings today as partners and friends to take stock, and also to talk about the next steps and discuss the next steps and to define our position.
We both agree that the only way out of the crisis is a political path, and it is a path that means we engage in dialogue. Our readiness to do so has been amply given proof of, as we engaged in talks over the last few days and weeks at different levels and in different formats.
Unfortunately, Russia’s behavior continues to speak a different language. The worrisome activities on the part of Russia continue. Recently, for example, Russia deployed troops to Belarus and recently engaged in joint military exercises in along the border with Ukraine.
Against this background, I want to unequivocally repeat the position that both of us – that the Europeans too share and that we have impressed upon people time and time again over the last few days and weeks – and that is that we urgently call upon Russia to take steps to de-escalate. Any further aggression on the part of Russia, any further aggressive attitude on the part of Russia would have grave consequences.
This is about no less but the preservation of Europe’s peaceful order. It is of existential importance for us that we have no choice but to consistently stand up for it and to protect it with a protective shield. And this is expressly true in cases where this might have economic consequences for ourselves.
Very often you have been asking us – as we are engaging in these formats – you have asked us if these engagements have only meant a minimal advance for all of us. We’re taking one step, millimeter by millimeter. We will continue to do so because each and every millimeter is worthwhile our effort. Every millimeter means a little bit of greater security for the peoples in Europe, and that I believe is the most important task of politicians: to provide for that security.
NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg yesterday invited Allies and Russia to attend further meetings of the NATO-Russia Council. Yes, let me underline that all of that is hard work. It is a tedious work, but nevertheless, it – in times where silence ruled over so many weeks and over the last two years, this is a good and important signal. It also shows that after the meetings of the past week, where we used this format with Russia, to engage with Russia, that there is potential in that format as we engage with Russia in the OSCE but also in the many bilateral exchanges that we’ve had with Russia recently.
And I would expressly like to mention in this context the Normandy Format. It is one of the four very important strands for dialogue that we’ve been using these days and that are available to us these days. Together with France, I personally and Jean-Yves Le Drian will personally do what we can in order to breathe fresh life into that format. The leeway that this format opens up will be explored by Jean-Yves and myself as we plan to visit Ukraine together soon.
Tony, we also talked about Iran and the JCPOA today, and here again we are pulling in the same direction together. Unfortunately, here too we have come to state that in the ongoing negotiations in Vienna – core issues regarding the nuclear topics, but also with an eye to lifting sanctions – are still waiting for a solution. And in parallel, Iran continues to expand its nuclear program. That’s the window for solution increasingly moves towards being shut. Negotiations have entered a decisive phase and we need to urgently make concrete progress, because otherwise we will not succeed in reaching an agreement which would be sufficient in providing additional value added on the central issue of non-proliferation.
We also talked about a few other topics today, but time was really of the essence and very short. So I beg your understanding for the fact – and possible questions you might ask – that the time plan, the schedule of my American counterpart is very, very tight. China also figured in our talks today. This morning I myself, for the very first time, had the opportunity to talk to my Chinese counterpart in a VTC, my virtual first visit, so to speak, since I took office. And again, there are many important topics where we could engage in an excellent cooperation, be that with respect to climate protection or in fighting the COVID pandemic. But in our cooperation with China too, it has to be clear that this can only happen on the basis of international law and fairness applying here. And part and parcel of this is respect for human rights.
Tony, I would like to thank you once again for giving me this opportunity to meet with you so quickly after our last meeting, and I thank you for this friendly exchange, which was marked by trust. Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Foreign Minister Baerbock, Annalena, thank you. Thank you for the incredibly warm hospitality today, but even more than that, thank you for the partnership that we’ve already built in the relatively short time that you’ve been on the job and the relatively short time I’ve been on the job.
This is the third time that the two of us have had a chance to actually meet in the weeks since you’ve become foreign minister. And I think our ability to dive right into working together on some of the most complex challenges that our nations face is a testament to my colleague and friend and also to the strength of the German-U.S. bilateral relationship.
That relationship runs much deeper than any single issue or set of interests and commitments. Above all, we are bound together by what we care about and how we engage in the world. You see that in our enduring efforts to improve democracy and human rights, including in our own countries; in our willingness to defend a set of rules and institutions that have underwritten peace and security far beyond our borders; in the way that we’re stepping up to global challenges like climate, like COVID. And we’re off to a running start in our collaboration with the new German Government, and we could not be more pleased by that fact.
As you know, yesterday – and as Annalena mentioned – I was in Kyiv to meet with President Zelenskyy, Foreign Minister Kuleba. And from here, Berlin, we head on to Geneva, where I’ll see our Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
And this trip comes on the heels, as Annalena says, of a week of very intense diplomacy when it comes to Russia.
Across all the engagements with Moscow last week, our collective aim, the goal that we share, was to seek a diplomatic path to de-escalate tensions caused by Russia’s massing of troops along Ukraine’s borders, to deter and prevent a further Russian invasion or destabilization of Ukraine, and to address legitimate security concerns put forward by Russia, by the United States, by Europe through dialogue – not through aggression.
This is, of course, part of a larger and enduring goal of the United States and Germany and our allies: upholding the international rules that have provided the foundation for decades for peace, for security, for prosperity in Europe and beyond.
In last week’s meetings, we were firm in our principles and clear about the areas where we can make progress with Russia if it chooses to engage.
Our discussions with Russia were frank and direct, and they gave us, our allies and partners, things to consider. They gave Russia things to consider, too.
So we’re here now to consult and coordinate with allies and partners about how to proceed. That’s what we did yesterday in Kyiv with our Ukrainian partners, and it’s what Annalena and I did today with our counterparts from the United Kingdom and France. And it will be central to my meeting that I’m honored to have with Chancellor Scholz this evening.
All of these engagements are part of wide-ranging, ongoing consultations with our European allies and partners – more than a hundred in recent weeks alone, including with Ukraine, NATO, the European Union, the OSCE, the Bucharest Nine, as well as many bilateral conversations with individual countries – to ensure that we are speaking and acting together with one voice when it comes to Russia.
That unity gives us strength – a strength I might add that Russia does not and cannot match. It’s why we build voluntary alliances and partnerships in the first place. It’s also why Russia recklessly seeks to divide us.
And it’s why, in my meeting tomorrow with Foreign Minister Lavrov, I’ll be able to represent a shared view, a shared preference, on the part of the United States and our European allies and partners for finding a diplomatic path forward to de-escalate this conflict.
Even as we’re relentless in pursuing this diplomatic path, we’ll continue to make very clear that if Moscow chooses the path of further aggression, we will impose swift and massive costs.
On this, too, we’re united. Chancellor Scholz made that clear a few days ago, when he said that Russia would bear high costs for such an escalation. So did our British and French counterparts earlier today. And it’s the same message we’ve heard from the G7, from NATO, from the European Union, among others. The United States will continue to take the interests of all of our partners – Germany, other European allies – into account as we proceed, and not only take them into account, but working actively together to make sure that our common interests are represented and accounted for.
Annalena and I also reaffirmed the commitment that Germany and the United States made in July to work together to support Ukraine’s energy security and prevent Russia from using energy as a weapon.
And we talked about the status of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which the United States has long opposed.
It’s also worth noting that gas is not flowing through Nord Stream 2 yet, which means that the pipeline is leverage for Germany, the United States, and our allies – not Russia. That’s undoubtedly something that Moscow is weighing as it considers its next move, particularly given the strong statements countries have made about the serious consequences Russia will face if it commits further aggression against Ukraine.
So we’re at a decisive juncture. We cannot choose the path for Moscow. But we can make crystal clear the stark consequences of that choice – positive on the one hand if we pursue dialogue and diplomacy, but very negative on the other hand if Russia chooses the path of aggression.
No matter which path Russia chooses, it will find the United States, Germany, and our allies united. We know that Germany has significant connections to Russia and that Germany, like the United States, seeks a stable, predictable relationship with Russia. That’s in all of our interests.
Finally, in our meeting earlier today with the Quad, with Germany, the UK, France, and the United States, and as well EU High Representative Josep Borrell, we focused – as Annalena said – on the ongoing talks with Iran about a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA, the Iran nuclear deal. And we are, indeed, at a decisive moment. We can bring these talks to a successful conclusion and address the core concerns of all sides, but time is running out.
If a deal is not reached in the coming weeks, Iran’s ongoing nuclear advances, which resumed after we withdrew from the agreement, will make it impossible for us to return to the JCPOA. So we discussed in detail how we can reach an understanding in Vienna, and what we’ll do if Iran rejects a mutual return compliance and full implementation. It was a very productive discussion.
And so we face a number of serious and pressing challenges. As Annalena said, we discussed other things. I should mention as well that we focused together on what our countries can do to help bring COVID to an end this year in 2022. But it’s precisely these times that remind us why we need steadfast allies and partners, and how much stronger we are when we confront the challenges we face together. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We have time for a couple of – four questions now; two questions from each side, alternating between the sides. And we’ll start with Jorg Blank from DPA.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Madam Minister, Secretary, much talk has been of de-escalating the situation. Now, criticism has been expressed as delivery of weapons of the United States and the United Kingdom right before the engagement with the Russian president might lead to escalating the situation instead of de-escalating it. What do you have to say?
Madam Minister, the Berlin prosecutor has instituted criminal proceedings against the Greens and members of this party. Is this a burden on you as the foreign minister?
FOREIGN MINISTER BAERBOCK: (Via interpreter) As far as the question regarding substance is concerned, I would like to say the following: The most important lever we have to exert influence on Russia regarding Ukraine is the unequivocal unanimous commitment of the EU, the G7, and of NATO that any further regressive action would have a high – would come at a high cost, and would have a high price – economic, politically, and also in strategic terms. And this is why both of us have been engaging so intensively in these talks these days. And this is why both of us will continue to engage, to consult. We are both engaging at different levels. And you may be aware of the fact that Germany has a special tradition of showing great restraint when it comes to exporting weapons and arms to crisis areas. But bearing that different position of countries at the back of one’s mind, we have tried to assume responsibility in different ways. We, for example, have helped expand the military hospital and providing support there.
(Inaudible) let perhaps the Secretary answer first, and then I’ll come to your second question.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Let me start by saying this: It is remarkable in some ways the extent to which over time President Putin’s actions have precipitated exactly what he says he wants to prevent. And so in 2014, when Russia invaded Ukraine, seized Crimea, sparked conflict in the Donbas that continues to this day, changed Ukraine’s borders by force, we – the Alliance, the United States, our European partners – we responded to those aggressive actions. Part of that response was to provide defensive military assistance to Ukraine, to do our best to help ensure that if Russia continued its aggression or renewed its aggression at some later date, that Ukraine would have the means to defend itself. And so the idea that the provision by the United States, by European countries, by NATO of defensive military equipment to Ukraine is somehow provocative or cause for Russia’s actions has the world upside down. All that we are trying to do is to make sure to the best of our ability that, as I said, Ukraine has the means to defend itself, and that might perhaps deter further aggression by Russia.
FOREIGN MINISTER BAERBOCK: (Via interpreter) As your second question, as far as that is concerned, I already commented in that regard in public. The funds have been repaid. Of course, we fully cooperate with the investigating authorities in order to clarify the matter under investigation and finally close that part. As for the rest, I refer to the statement published by my party.
MR PRICE: Our first question goes to Simon Lewis, of Reuters.
QUESTION: Thank you. Secretary Blinken, firstly, President Biden said yesterday that if Russia were to only make a minor incursion into Ukraine, there are some differences with allies on how you would respond. The Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kuleba, who you met yesterday, has said this could serve as an invitation to Russia. So I wondered if you wanted to sort of clarify for Russia, for the benefit of President Putin, what actions by Russia exactly would trigger the sanctions response that you have threatened.
And just quickly, I would wonder if you could respond to French President Macron’s comment yesterday that the Europeans should have their own dialogue with Russia. Does that undermine the united approach you’re trying to build?
And to foreign minister, I wonder if you could respond on the issue of whether you’re in agreement with the U.S. on how you might respond to Russian actions that don’t constitute a full invasion of Ukraine. Are the German people willing to bear the costs of harsh sanctions on Russia if troops haven’t actually been sent into Ukraine? And in the event of a full invasion, the U.S. has implied that the German Government has agreed not to allow the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to operate. Could you clarify whether that is your position? Thanks.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Simon, thanks very much. First, we have been very clear throughout: If any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border and commit new acts of aggression against Ukraine, that will be met with a swift, severe, united response from the United States and our allies and partners. And again, I refer you to the many very clear and declarative statements made by the G7, the leading democratic economies in the world, by NATO, and by the European Union, among others.
We also know from long experience that Russia has a lot of tools in its playbook, some of them short of outright military action – destabilizing action, hybrid attacks, paramilitary tactics. And indeed, we’ve been talking about many of these with our allies and partners throughout, looking at every possible scenario that Russia could use and pursue in order to in some way or another commit renewed aggression against Ukraine, destabilize it, and take any number of actions. And in each of those scenarios, we’ve been working very closely together to make sure that we effectively define our coordinated response. And that’s exactly what we’ve been doing, and I think doing that very effectively.
When it comes to sanctions, again, all of our countries have been clear about the massive consequences that Russia would face for renewed aggression. We have different authorities in our different countries that we have to look at. There will no doubt be, if these sanctions prove necessary, a division of labor. But everything will be complementary and mutually reinforcing, and closely coordinated.
FOREIGN MINISTER BAERBOCK: (Via interpreter) As far as the question is concerned that you put to me, I can only underline what Tony Blinken already said: that we are closely coordinating with our counterparts on possible sanctions with an eye to the security of Ukraine. We want to have a shared assessment of the situation, and we do have that shared assessment of the situation in our response, and this is equally true for sanctions.
I’d like to use this opportunity to highlight once again that sanctions only serve their purpose if they are effective. Thus, with an eye to what one might consider as possible sanctions, we will have to take a close look at possible options in the financial area, perhaps not. That is the most effective sanction that might appear to a first glance to be most powerful, but those who show in effect – which show in effect over time with regard to Russia should there be a further escalation in the situation.
As I said, we’re consulting with our partners in the G7, as Tony highlighted, but we’re also consulting and coordinating with the other members of the European Union and we’re also consulting at a bilateral level between Europe and the United States of America. And we – both of us in Washington when we met earlier, but other on other occasions – underlined that as far as sanctions are concerned and as far as the issue of serious and grave consequences of economic measures are concerned, the subject of energy was to be counted amongst the possible approaches.
Tony Blinken pointed to the close exchanges of both of our governments, not only between the foreign ministers – the foreign minister and the Secretary, but the general – the governments and the administrations in general. The German chancellor too has expressed his position recently in that regard and said that should there be a further escalation, all the measures would be laid on the table, and nothing, of course, logically has changed with regard to that statement.
MODERATOR: Mr. Kruger of Süddeutsche Zeitung will have the next question.
QUESTION: Danke. For Secretary Blinken, over here – sorry – the State Department characterized the fact that you’re going to meet Sergey Lavrov tomorrow as an indication that the Russians could be willing to take the diplomatic ramp off that you were talking about. The President in the night has said that he’s under the – assuming that President Putin will invade Ukraine. I would like to know if you share the President’s assessment.
And if I may, regarding the Normandy Format, are you going to recommend to your colleague Sergey Lavrov to engage in that format? And is the U.S. willing to join that format?
(Via interpreter) And a question for the foreign minister: Have you talked today about new impulses in the framework of the Normandy Format? Have you been able to talk to your French counterpart? Are there further concrete plans with regard to continuing the talks in that format?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much. Let me take the second part of your question first, with regard to the Normandy Format. The United States fully supports it and we have made that clear to Russia, and I’ll reiterate that tomorrow when I see Foreign Minister Lavrov, as well as to Ukraine. And we’ve simply said that if there is anything that we can do to support that effort, to further facilitate it, we’re ready at any time to do that – not by joining the Normandy Format, but again, supporting, facilitating, communicating if that’s helpful.
And our hope is that the different parties will engage meaningfully and productively, because that is the single best way to implement the Minsk agreements, which really are the solution, the agreed solution by both Russia and Ukraine to the situation in the Donbas, and ultimately the best way for Ukraine to get its eastern border back.
Second, with regard to President Putin and his intentions, what I heard President Biden say yesterday is that he doesn’t believe that President Putin has yet made up his mind. And our task is together, through all of the work that we’ve been doing, to make clear the different options that President Putin actually has before him – dialogue and diplomacy on the one hand, conflict and consequences on the other hand – to hopefully deter and dissuade him from renewing his aggression against Ukraine.
Tomorrow, when I have a chance to see my Russian counterpart, I think it’s a good opportunity, because since this last week of very intensive discussions with Russia in the Strategic Stability Dialogue between the United States and Russia, the NATO-Russia Council, the OSCE, we’ve all had an opportunity to think about what we heard from each other. The Russians have had a chance, I assume, to go back and consult with President Putin. We’ve had a chance to consult closely among ourselves. And now I think we’ll be able to see further, perhaps as a result of tomorrow’s meetings, whether there is still a clear diplomatic path forward, one that Germany and the United States together are determined to pursue.
But ultimately, that’s up to President Putin. He has to decide which course to take. We’ve made very clear which course we prefer. We’ve also made very clear what we’re prepared to do if he takes the other path.
FOREIGN MINISTER BAERBOCK: (Via interpreter) As concerns the second part of your question, we met in the format of the Quad to coordinate our actions as the full and intensive coordination and cooperation between Germany and France takes place in different places, in a different place, but we had the opportunity to meet recently and we will continue to meet in the foreseeable future.
But it is obvious that we plan to visit Ukraine together in the very near future as far as Minsk is concerned with an eye to the Minsk Agreement, because the situation in Donbas is especially, under pandemic circumstances, very – making life very difficult for the people there, in humanitarian terms, amongst others, and thus, the two of us will make the point of visiting exactly that part of the country. And then we’ll be using different formats to prepare the resumption of the Normandy Format discussions.
MR PRICE: Our final question goes to Shaun Tandon of the AFP.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you. If I could ask a question on a slightly different topic but also touches on Russia – Iran. Both of you mentioned that time is running out on Iran for the negotiations.
Mr. Secretary, you said that you discussed next steps if there’s not mutual compliance. Could you outline what those next steps would be on the part of the United States and Germany and allies? And how are the negotiations going on in Vienna right now? Are you optimistic about getting there?
If I could add on that, President Raisi of Iran was in Moscow this week. Do you think the Russians are playing a constructive role in Iran? How do you assess that?
And Mr. Secretary, if I could ask you something somewhat different, so-called Havana syndrome. I’m sure you’ve seen that there was intelligence report, intelligence conclusion, interim conclusion that this was not an orchestrated campaign. You yourself have said that you’ve raised this with Russia in the past. Does the United States plan to keep raising this with Russia, and do you agree with this assessment? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER BAERBOCK: Go ahead.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Shaun, thanks very much. First, with regard to Iran and the status of the talks. We’re now in the midst of the eighth round of talks in Vienna, and as both of us have said, we have reached what is an urgent point. The longer this goes on – which is why it can’t go on much longer – the more Iran will continue to advance its nuclear program, a program that was stopped by the JCPOA, by the nuclear deal, but that was resumed by Iran when we pulled out of it, and the shorter and shorter the so-called breakout time will become that is the time it would take Iran to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon.
So there is real urgency, and this is really now a matter of weeks where we determine whether or not we can return to mutual compliance with the agreement. My own assessment, talking to all of our colleagues, is that returning to mutual compliance remains possible. We’ve seen, I would say, some modest progress in the last couple of weeks in the talks, but we are not where we need to be. And if we don’t get there very soon, we will have to take a different course. And yes, indeed, we discussed exactly that today with our allies and partners. We did that in the Quad with Germany, with France, with the United Kingdom, and we discussed together the steps that we would take together if Iran refuses to return to compliance with the agreement on terms that are acceptable to all of us.
Second, with regard to the anomalous health incidents that you refer to, look, I have no higher priority as Secretary than the health and safety of all of our colleagues and their families. That’s something that I take as my highest responsibility. It’s also a responsibility that is felt across the entire United States Government, starting with the President, all of my colleagues in the cabinet across multiple agencies. And we had been working overtime to try to understand what happened, who might be responsible, and at the same time, to do everything we can to care for our colleagues who’ve been affected and to protect people.
I’ve talked directly face to face, on the phone, by video with colleagues from the State Department around the world who have been affected, who have reported real experiences, real suffering, real symptoms. And when you talk to people, when you hear them, when you hear what they’ve been through, there is no doubt in my mind but that they have had real experiences, real symptoms, and real suffering. And we are going to continue to do everything we can with all the resources we can bring to bear to understand, again, what happened, why, and who might be responsible. And we are leaving no stone unturned.
Meanwhile, as I said, we are also very focused on caring for anyone who has experienced a health incident. And one of the things I had a chance to do just a couple of weeks ago was to visit the extraordinary facility at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where those who’ve been affected have the opportunity to benefit from the best medical care in the world. So we will continue to do everything possible for our people. We’ll continue to try to understand what’s happened, what the causes are for what people have experienced, and we will leave no stone unturned to get to the bottom of it.
FOREIGN MINISTER BAERBOCK: (Via interpreter) If I may also comment, as far as Iran is concerned, the negotiations in Vienna have not entered a decisive phase, but the decisive phase, because we are in the truest sense of the expression running out of time, because parallel to the ongoing negotiations, Iran is increasing the nuclear spiral of escalation. Uranium enrichment up to the level of 60 percent has been achieved by Iran is unparalleled for a country that has no nuclear weapons. And there’s no plausible explanation for that, nor has Iran tried to provide such a plausible explanation. We talked about this today, and in our talks today we highlighted what Tony Blinken just said: these weeks are the decisive weeks. Our objective is to maintain and to preserve the agreement and, above all, to make Iran see sense and to ensure that Iran can no further increase its enrichment capacity.
We, as I said, engage as the members of the Quad. The members of the E3 sent out a letter right before Christmas to Iran. We – I took it all to up with the Russian foreign minister who I met the day before yesterday. Direct talks have taken place, directly engaging with Iran. I talked about this today when I talked to my Chinese counterpart, and undoubtedly my colleague will take it up tomorrow. So that, I think, is an indication of the fact that it is not only the Quad that plays a part here, but that we are all working the same direction. Also there’s been change with – exchange with China and Russia.
Thank you for the press conference, and I wish you continuing good talks, Tony.