August 11, 2022

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Secretary Antony J. Blinken at a Press Availability

14 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Algiers, Algeria

U.S. Embassy Algiers

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good afternoon, everyone.  I’d like to begin by announcing another five stops on this trip.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  Not funny.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yeah.  (Laughter.)  In all seriousness, I am very glad to be back in Algeria.  I visited in 2016 when I was the deputy secretary, but this is the first trip that I’m making here as Secretary.  If you’ve noticed over the last weeks, every country in the Maghreb has hosted at least one high-ranking American official, and I think that is a signal, among others, of the importance that we place on these relationships and on the region.

Let me just take a moment as I start to recognize our relatively new ambassador here, Elizabeth Aubin, who arrived last month.  Ambassador Aubin is very uniquely suited for this role.  She previously served as the deputy chief of mission here, and three decades of experience in the Foreign Service.  She is truly the best of our department.  We’re grateful to have you here.

So over the course of this trip, we have visited Israel, the West Bank, Morocco, now Algeria.  And at every stop, we dealt with critical security issues, urgent regional and global challenges, and a shared desire to create more opportunities for our people.

Here in Algeria, the ties between our countries go back a long time – 1795, at a time when most of the world still didn’t recognize our then-young country.  And Hassan Bashaw Dey, who ruled what was then called the Deylik of Algiers, signed a treaty of peace with our first president, George Washington.  Since then, Algerians and Americans have developed our economic, educational, cultural connections, and our countries work closely together on issues that matter to the security and well-being of our people, and many others.

As I said today to President Tebboune and Foreign Minister Lamamra, Algeria’s efforts are critical to improving regional security and stability.  That includes its counterterrorism expertise, the humanitarian and security assistance that it provides to neighbors in the Sahel, its demonstrated leadership in finding regional and African-led solutions to challenges.

On Libya, Algeria has been a critical voice in international efforts to advance the UN political process and promote Libyan elections as quickly as possible.  And as the broker of the Algiers Accords, Algeria continues to play an important role in Mali, where we both support a return to democratic rule.

Algeria has also emerged in the region as a leader in preserving cultural heritage sites, which terrorists and organized crime groups have increasingly looted to finance their illicit activities.  Last year we joined Algeria in bringing together government officials, archaeologists, cultural site managers from Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt, to discuss how to keep these sites secure and successfully prosecute looters of cultural property.

On the matter of Western Sahara, the United States supports the work of the UN personal envoy of the secretary general, Staffan de Mistura, in leading the political process under the auspices of the United Nations to promote a peaceful and prosperous future for the people living there.

I also reaffirmed to the president and the foreign minister the importance of concrete progress on human rights, including freedom of religion for all faiths, freedom of expression, especially political speech.

And we talked about ways to build on our robust trade and investment ties.  American companies here are helping to diversify Algeria’s economy – training local employees, sharing knowledge, building long-term partnerships that are of benefit to both of our countries.  I spoke to a number of those businesses today – I think some of you were there – in advance of the Algiers International Trade Fair that’ll take place this summer, the largest in Africa, where the United States is proud to be the country of honor.

Algeria and the United States have worked together to beat back the COVID-19 pandemic.  We’ve donated more than 600,000 vaccine doses to Algeria as well as a 35-bed state-of-the-art field hospital, and a second donated field hospital will be up and running in the coming months.

Likewise, Algeria has been there for its neighbors.  When COVID disrupted tourism and other vital trades in Tunisia, Algeria provided critical financial support and donated more than 250,000 vaccine doses.

Now, as you all know, I came on here to this region after a trip to Brussels with – and Poland with President Biden, where we saw the extraordinary unity and determination among allies and partners to stand with the Ukrainian people and bring an end to Russia’s unjust and brutal war in Ukraine.  The countries of North Africa and the Middle East have experienced themselves the consequences of Russian military campaigns before – for example, in Syria and Libya, where Russian military and paramilitary forces exploited conflicts for Moscow’s gain, with deadly consequences for citizens and communities.

Now, many in this region are feeling the pain of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in another way, with rising food prices, especially wheat.  Farmers in Ukraine, instead of tending to their crops, have been forced to either fight for their country’s future and independence, or to flee.  Ships with grain are not getting out from Black Sea ports because they’re blocked by Russia’s aggression.  Countries around the world, including North Africa and the Middle East, import significant amounts of wheat from Ukraine, and of course, when food prices rise, so do the numbers of people suffering from hunger.  This is just one more reason why the international community must increase the pressure on Russia to end this unprovoked and unjustified war.

So let me conclude simply by saying thank you to our colleagues in Algeria for hosting us today, and Ramadan Kareem to all of those who will soon celebrate the Ramadan.

With that, I will happily take some questions.

MR PRICE:  We’ll start with Matt Lee of the AP, please.

QUESTION:  Hi, (inaudible).  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Matt.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, how are you?  Hi.  Thank you.  Are you at all concerned with Algeria’s relationship – Algeria in particular and its relationship with Russia?  And should – do you think that it should be doing more to re-evaluate its ties with the Russians?

And also, given where you’ve been so far on this portion of the trip, the Middle East and North Africa, and what you attended, what you participated in on Monday, are you concerned at all, especially given the president’s comments to you a little bit earlier, that Algeria is in danger of missing out on the kind of benefits, the kind of changes that you’ve talked – you and others have talked about in terms of the region?

And then if I could just ask one last thing on Ukraine and Russia, and that is there are officials in Washington who are saying that the U.S. believes that President Putin has been misled by his top military advisors.  Is this something that is shared administration-wide, or at least by you?  Do you believe that to be the case?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, Matt.  So on the first part of the question, look, I think it’s a reality that different countries have different historical relationships with Russia.  But there are times when one issue emerges that is so clearly black and white, and in this case of Ukraine a clear aggressor and a clear victim, that it’s important to stand with the victim and to stand for the principles that have also been violated, principles that should matter to countries around the world, principles about sovereignty, about independence.  And I know that that’s something that Algerians feel strongly about, given their own history.

And I think countries in the region as well have seen the damaging effects of Russia’s military campaigns before.  I alluded to that a moment ago.  In Syria and Libya, as I mentioned, the Russian military and paramilitary forces have exploited conflicts for Moscow’s gain.  And that in turn has actually posed great threats to security in the region and stability and commerce.  And as I mentioned as well, these actions have had deadly consequences for citizens in the region.  They’ve disrupted the peace and prosperity of communities.  They’ve intruded into the lives of families and individuals who are simply trying to live peacefully in their own countries.

And then again, I think the impact that’s being felt, even if what seems very distant as a conflict to people in this region because it is half a world away or almost half a world away in Europe, it’s having a direct impact on their lives right now, particularly with regard to rising food prices, something that everyone is feeling, especially wheat.  So my sense from having talked to a lot of colleagues over the last days is that a lot of this pain is keenly felt in this region.  Most of the countries import half their wheat or more.  And so we see them taking stock of that, and that’s factoring into their thinking.

But mostly, I think you’re seeing that countries understand that what’s happening in Ukraine matters, of course, first and foremost to the people in Ukraine.  But it also matters to them because, as I said, principles that matter to them – the UN charter, sovereignty, independence – are also the victims of aggression.

With regard to the Negev and the countries participating in the normalization process with Israel, look, these are decisions for countries to make.  They have to decide what’s in the best interests of their own people.  I think what we’re trying to show through the countries that are participating in the Negev process, since we’re now giving it that name, is that this is going to have real, practical benefits for the people in the countries participating in that effort who have normalized their relations with Israel.

And we’re seeing that take life in terms of connections that have grown very rapidly between people, between businesses, between students, tourists; all of that, even with COVID, has gone up dramatically.  At the same time, what we’re doing as governments is looking at how we can work together to make the kinds of investments in infrastructure, in global health, in science, in dealing with climate, that are going to have real benefits for people.  My bet is that as other countries that are not part of that process see this take shape, they will conclude that this is something they want to be a part of.  And that’ll happen at different paces for different countries.  But, of course, it’s on us to demonstrate that it really works and that it produces results.  I believe that it will.

And finally, with regard to President Putin, look, what I can tell you is this, and I said this before:  One of the Achilles heels of autocracies is that you don’t have people in those systems who speak truth to power or who have the ability to speak truth to power.  And I think that is something that we’re seeing in Russia.

MR PRICE:  We’ll turn to Abderrahim Kachour.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary of State.  United States is adopting an advance position against Russian military aggression in Ukraine based on the principle of violence against international law.  But the same thing is happening in Palestine, in (inaudible), as well in Western Sahara.  But United States didn’t show the same fairness, the same resolve, as that one in Ukraine.  And in the same context, is Biden administration still adopting the proclamation of the ex-President Donald Trump recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:   Thank you very much.  When President Biden took office, we and he made two principal commitments in terms of our foreign policy and how we would engage the world.  We made a commitment to re-engage with partners – and international institutions and organizations – and we made a commitment to lead with diplomacy, and that’s what we’ve done.  Part of that means that when the basic rules of diplomacy and the international system that are necessary to try to keep peace and security are being violated, we will stand up with other countries to defend them.  And that’s what we’re doing.  That’s what we’re doing in the case of this aggression.  But the centrality of diplomacy to this effort is critical.

And so when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians, we have remained very engaged with our diplomacy to try and advance prospects for getting back to a two-state solution, to negotiating that, and in the meantime doing everything that we can to help the Palestinian people improve their lives.  We’ve committed half a billion dollars in assistance to the Palestinians over the last year.  We’ve re-engaged with UNRWA.  And, of course, I was just up in Ramallah.  And by the way, we were talking about the Negev Summit and the countries participating in that – one of the things that we spent some time talking about is how we could use that grouping of countries to focus on helping Palestinians improve their lives.  And we also made clear – and I certainly made clear – that as committed as we are to supporting normalization and to having more countries join in, that is not a substitute for dealing with the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and not a substitute for two states.

Similarly, with regard to Western Sahara, we’re very focused on diplomacy and on advancing a resolution through diplomacy, including through the efforts of Staffan de Mistura, the envoy from the United Nations.

So I think these things are very consistent.  In each case, we are working through diplomacy, working with other countries to uphold the basic principles of the international system.  And again, on Morocco, on Western Sahara, we are continuing to support the efforts of the UN.  There’s been no change in our position otherwise.

MR PRICE:  Peter Martin of Bloomberg.

QUESTION:  Hi, thank you.   Yesterday you met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.  Did you ask him to increase oil production to help bring down gas prices?  And did you offer any specific assurances about the UAE’s security?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks.  Well, first, let me just say we had what I thought was an excellent and lengthy discussion.  And we always benefit, and I certainly always benefit, from getting the crown prince’s perspective.  And we had what I thought was a very meaningful, heartfelt exchange that covered really the breadth of our partnership and did it in a strategic way as well as a specific way.

One of the things I made very clear to him is the value that we attach to that partnership, and that we are a true partner for the UAE.  The UAE has been with us around the world, including in Afghanistan, fighting side by side.  In fact, the crown prince had some of his sons in attendance who had fought with us, and one indeed who was injured.  That’s a very powerful thing.  And we’ll continue to stand by them.

One of the things I told them was that the United States remains committed to helping the UAE defend itself against threats from Yemen, from the Houthis, even as we work to try to bring that conflict to a close.  In fact, we have our Special Envoy Tim Lenderking in the region as we speak, and we very much welcome the UAE support for a truce that could lead to a ceasefire.  I also took the opportunity to commend the crown prince for his vision, his courage, his leadership in normalizing ties with Israel, and we talked about the opportunities that can bring for all of our people.

We had a very constructive discussion as well about the war in Ukraine and the Russian aggression there.  We talked about Syria, the status of our talks with Iran on the possible return of the JCPOA, and a number of other things.  It was really a lengthy and detailed conversation as well as one that looked at the relationship from a strategic perspective.  So we will continue to be in very close touch with our Emirati partners on all of these issues and more.  Our teams are following up on many of the things that we discussed yesterday.

As to energy, we believe it’s critical that there be abundant supplies of energy on markets now and that there also be a steady supply.  But as it happens, we didn’t focus on that issue specifically.

MR PRICE:  We’ll take a final question from Amel Blidi, El Watan.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  We’d like to know:  How do you perceive Algeria, and what’s your assessment towards the situation in North Africa, especially with deep crisis between Algeria and Morocco and the complex question in Libya?  So do you feel (inaudible) —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  As I said at the outset, we have a relationship that runs back a long way in our history and one that’s meaningful precisely because Algeria was among the first countries to recognize the United States.  This goes back to our founding president, George Washington.  And in ways over the years, we have tried to build on that founding moment with security ties, economic ties, cultural ties connecting our people.  We are very grateful for Algeria’s important and ongoing diplomatic efforts to try to advance peace and security in the region.  It’s playing an important role and one that we count on.  We – as I mentioned, we talked a lot today about Libya and we are working very much in common to try to advance a truly democratic transition there through elections and a new government.

My sense is that building on this foundation of existing work together on security, deepening cooperation economically with trade and investment – I mentioned some of the numbers earlier today having increased significantly even during COVID.  And I think particularly with President Tebboune’s economic plan, one that offers the prospect I think of creating an even more favorable investment climate here for American companies through clear rules and regulations and predictability, I think you’re going to see that grow.  And as I mentioned, we have the international fair of which we’re the guest of honor this summer.  That’s a good opportunity to continue to bring American companies and Algerian businesses and people together.

We’ve been working very closely on counterterrorism and regional security, and we’re learning from each other in that process and strengthening our respective defense capabilities.  We were very proud – coming back to the connections between us in different ways, we just signed recently a three-year agreement with Columbia University, a university I happened to attend, and the Algerian Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research that will help revamp Algeria’s curriculum for teaching English language in universities.  And we, as I said, have been increasing these business and commercial ties in ways that will have very practical benefits to the lives of Algerians and Americans alike creating opportunity, creating jobs, advancing progress in everything from agriculture to IT to energy.

So what I’m seeing is a good foundation that we’re now building upon and that we’re very much looking forward to doing.  At the same time, to further address the second part of your question, we share real concerns about security in the region, particularly in the Sahel.  And we exchanged I think important, useful ideas about what we can do more effectively to deal with the challenges posed to security in the Sahel, but also to try to bring people there more opportunity, more hope, which is ultimately the best answer to dealing with security challenges.

So across the board, this was a very good day.  It’s building on a number of days that other senior officials have had here.  And of course, it’s building on the work that’s being done every day by our embassy and by private American citizens, businesses, students, et cetera.  All of that I think will increase in the months and years ahead.  Thank you.

MR PRICE:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  All right.  Thank you all.  See you at the next stop.

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