Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
Chief of Mission Residence
MR BUISINE: (Via interpreter) Hello, everyone. We are live on – with Antony Blinken, the new Secretary of State of the Biden administration. Hello, Mr. Secretary of State. You are the voice of America in the world. You are actually on an official visit in Europe. You met German Chancellor Angela Merkel and you are going to meet French President Macron in a moment.
We are going to talk about several topics – the threats against democracy, police violence, climate, and racism. And to talk about this, we have 34 young people we invited to have a discussion with you. So you will answer their questions. But I’m talking to you, watching live. You can ask your questions in the comments section and we will try to relay a few of those. My phone is here and I’m reading the comments.
But first of all, Mr. Secretary of State, we will be able to have this discussion in French because you lived in France for a few years, correct?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via interpreter) Indeed, I moved to France when I was nine. I used to live in New York. I lived here for nine years. I graduated high school here in Paris. I came back to Paris a couple years later to work. And I have friendships that started in school that are lasting, that have lasted over 50 years.
I’m delighted to be here to talk with all of you here today and those who are on the network. There’s an important reason why I wanted to have a dialogue such as this one. I believe that we’re faced with a challenge and also an opportunity. We’ll have to strengthen the links between our countries, and this will be done through you, whether it is through direct contact or on social media. You will be the ones who will build this partnership for the new generation. In my opinion, this is more important than ever. Our history is long-lasting, but it is particularly important today.
I think back to the challenges that we’re facing today, issues that affect all of our lives: the pandemic, COVID, the climate challenge, the impact of technology, new technology just as we’re seeing today. This impact can be good but not always – just like any topic that has an impact on your lives. And what we can see is that whether it is in France or in the U.S., a country that acts alone does not have the ability to face challenges on its own. And that goes for opportunities as well. We cannot build a wall high enough, we cannot build a solid wall to stop this from happening.
More than ever, I think that today there is a need for us to find a way to cooperate between countries so that we can work and act together. This ability is made possible by the ties that link our countries through our mutual values. And those relationships are living. The relationships are made by artistic pursuits, and by trade, and by working individuals. So for me, this is also an opportunity to listen to you, and to see what is important to you, and how you’re seeing the future of our relationships and of our ability to work together.
MR BUISINE: (Via interpreter) We are getting many questions in the comments. It’s true that you are lucky enough to be with us today, but us French still cannot go to the U.S. So one question: When will the borders reopen?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via interpreter) I cannot give a date but I hope it will be soon. As we do in democracies, we have set up a working group with the EU in order to come back again to this freedom of travel. But we must be guided by science, by the experts in the medical field. We shouldn’t take political decisions, but decisions based on facts and data. I hope this will be very soon. We really want this. I hope it will be in the coming weeks, not months.
MR BUISINE: (Via interpreter) Yes, what would be the timeline? Can we imagine going to the U.S. during this summer for holidays?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via interpreter) I hope so. I cannot provide a date. But we must be careful. We are seeing that we think we’re – we have security, but then there is a new variant of the virus spreading. We see this in certain European countries. We have that same variant, the Delta variant in the U.S. So we really have that desire to reopen quickly, but this needs to be based on facts and science.
MR BUISINE: (Via interpreter) Maybe there will be criteria for vaccinated people?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via interpreter) The experts are looking into it. I think there are different possibilities. I don’t want to talk too much about this. This is not my area of expertise. But I want to tell you that we are very actively working on this because we want to find a way to reopen further.
MR BUISINE: (Via interpreter) People are very impatient around this. And let us now turn to the audience and give the floor to the youth. First question from Fatima, from the south. She’s 18 years old. A question around the importation of the racial issue into France.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Hello. Thank you for listening to me. Xenophobia and racism are on the rise on both sides of the Atlantic. What are the reasons, and how does the U.S. face such violence?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via interpreter) Yes, this is the main topic these days, one of the main topics, unfortunately. We have this experience and we witness this here, too. And there are some very substantial issues that are hard to face. For instance – we could speak about it for an hour or two. For instance, we talk about the role of media and social media. A little time ago in France and the U.S., there was almost a monopoly of the media; there were big groups controlling the media, three main channels, a few national newspapers like The New York Times, and everybody got their information through those channels. And now, in the past 10 to 15 years, we have seen more democracy or information media being larger, but this also creates issues because there is no middle man anymore to check or limit access. Because we deeply believe in freedom of expression, but in the past when there was some excess or exaggeration, we could do something. But now with social media and the large platforms, they are not based on the same law than newspapers, for example. So that’s a question.
So how can we manage this without restricting freedom of expression? That’s an issue. But there are some deeper issues as well, and we are also witnessing in our societies issues with people that are left behind. These people don’t feel like they are being heard, that they are seen, and that people are taking care of them. And sometimes they express this issue, unfortunately, through hatred and even through violence. And we need to look into this as well.
But ultimately, most importantly, we must be able to respond to this and not accept such actions, such expressions, and this starts with national leaders but it’s not enough; this must also come from the society as a whole, and I hope from your generation. Because what we’re seeing – and that’s what makes it difficult these days – if you look at progress over the past 15 or 20 years, there is clearly progress in terms of security, opportunities, and even tolerance. And those of your generation are much more tolerant than my generation. So you need to speak out, to say what is acceptable and what is not. And in a democracy, we need to listen to you. And this speech, this way to speak on social networks, is also very important, and we must listen to those voices as well.
MR BUISINE: An opportunity to speak about social media, let me remind you, we are with Antony Blinken, Secretary of State.
In a year, there will be elections in France. Regardless of the result, will you keep the same relationship with France?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via interpreter) I don’t want to speak about French politics. But I can tell you that for a long time now, regardless of the government – in the U.S. or in France – we have acted together, we continue to do so, and as long as we work based on the same values, which is the link between us. The question is: Should Marine Le Pen be elected in 2022? I don’t want to speak on assumptions. I am very much focused on the present time, on now, and we are working remarkably with France.
MR BUISINE: (Via interpreter) Lea from Bordeaux has a question, has to do with the defiance towards politicians.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Conspiracy theories are prospering in the U.S. Does – do you think that you can regain the confidence of citizens in the face of this growing defiance?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via interpreter) This is a key question, indeed. The answer is fairly simple, in a way, even though it’s difficult to implement. There is a democratic depression that has lasted for 10 years, or even 15. We’re seeing a democratic withdrawal, so to speak, in most countries, including the most democratic ones. And it is very clear there is a lack of confidence, sometimes in democracy itself. And the answer is to show that democracies can deliver for their citizens and for the citizens around the world outside of those countries. So that is the challenge of our time, to show that democracies can act, and act in such a way as to improve the living conditions of our citizens. If we do this, and we yield results, and if the large majority of our citizens can see progress, and if their governments can take into account their wants and needs, I believe that we will see a new wave of support for the system.
However, if this does not happen, the crisis that is ongoing at the moment runs the risk of getting worse. And I’ll get – go back to what I said earlier: We will be more efficient in terms of yielding results if we work jointly, if countries work together, and if we cooperate within countries also. A government is not enough. Most of the problems that we’re facing require a response from the government, of course, but also from the – from civil society, from the private sector, from NGOs and so forth, more than ever. Those of us who work within government have an obligation to broaden the way we work. It is not enough to work amongst ourselves or with other governments. We need to focus on other ways and means, and to make sure that others are heard, and take part in the creation of our approaches. If we succeed, I think we will see a new impetus for democracy.
But the question that we are seeing now in autocracies is, well, we have a better capacity to act in an efficient manner to fulfill the needs of our people, and democracies are collapsing. Well, our job is to show that it is quite the contrary.
MR BUISINE: (Via interpreter) You were talking about social media and freedom of speech; there’s a question here. Trump was banned from Facebook; do you believe that this is against freedom of speech?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via interpreter) I don’t want to speak on this, to this particular matter involving the president, President Trump. We talked about this briefly earlier; there is a challenge in the – indeed, that is very difficult to tackle, that has to do with balancing freedom of speech on social media. Where does the responsibility lie? Is it with the government? Is it with the platforms themselves? How do we manage this while maintaining this principle of freedom of speech?
MR BUISINE: (Via interpreter) So what is your position on this?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via interpreter) Personally, I’m leaning in favor of freedom of – the freedom of speech, and I think we should fight against bad ideas with good ideas. But I’d be the first to admit that this is not so simple.
MR BUISINE: (Via interpreter) So in the case of Donald Trump, the fact that it is a private company that says, well, this person can no longer speak out, isn’t this sort of a democratic issue?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via interpreter) Well, yes, indeed, it is a democratic issue at stake here, but in our constitutional system the government overall does not have the right to restrain people’s freedom of speech. It’s different for a private company. They have more of a margin, constitutionally speaking. But this being said, the principle remains fundamental.
MR BUISINE: (Via interpreter) So does this mean that we need a reform?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via interpreter) Well, once again, this is above my pay grade. I’m in charge of working on managing foreign policy, but as a citizen, as an American citizen and as a citizen of the world, since social media is a world in and of itself, I believe that we need to find a way to manage this issue with the utmost respect for freedom of speech.
At the same time, when it comes to social media, it’s a little bit simplistic to say, “Well, social media is just here to assure technical support; we’re not in charge of the editorial content, and we’re not responsible.” In my opinion, this is going a bit too far. The way the conversation is managed, with the algorithms that are used, all of this has a profound impact on content and on what people see and listen on social media, and what they don’t see or don’t hear on social media. I believe that social media companies need to assume part of the responsibility. When the government enters this realm, then there are regulations involved, and sometimes it can go a bit too far. It’s best to get your results that will come out of the social media themselves.
MR BUISINE: (Via interpreter) We have a question from Laura.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Recently on American bases, certain flags have been banned, including the Confederate flag, seen as racist. This new ban also includes the LGBT flag. Does this ban send an alarming message?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via interpreter) I’m responsible for the Secretary of State, and we have now the possibility for each embassy or each head of mission to show the flag, including the LGBTQ flag. This decision was made a few months ago. With regards to our diplomatic foreign missions, this is part of the scope of responsibility of our ambassadors. I cannot speak in the name of our colleagues from the Department of Defense or Pentagon. They have had a rule for a long time now that says that the only flag outside of the American flag that can be shown is the one that is a symbol of the American soldiers that are combat.
MR BUISINE: (Via interpreter) We have now a question from Jean around the Uyghurs. He’s 17, coming from Maubeuge in the north.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) The U.S. have been mobilized against the violations of the Uyghurs’ rights in China. You, for instance, banned cotton importations from Xinjiang. Are these restrictions enough?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via interpreter) That’s an excellent question. And one could answer no, because if the result is not here – that is, stopping the abuse against the Uyghurs – one could say that this is not enough, because what matters is the result. That being said, there are two important aspects when we witness human rights violations, including such serious violations as seen in Xinjiang. We need to at least speak out; not only speak out but taking action with the available means. And in that regard, we shouldn’t be complicit with this situation, hence, the idea of trying to make sure that products that are made with the workers in Xinjiang cannot be imported. And we must also make sure that our countries do not export technologies to China, technologies that could be used to control those communities.
But it’s more complicated than this. I am – I admit that sanctions are an important tool, but it can also have perverted consequences. For instance, if because of those sanctions the life of those we’re are trying to help gets worse because they are not able to make a living or they do not have access to certain products, including humanitarian products, we must raise that question and we must look into the issue specifically and always ask ourselves the question: Does our action overall have a positive or a negative impact?
But with the current situation, which is ongoing right now in Xinjiang against the Uyghurs, we should at least as an international community to shed a light on what is happening, to clearly speak out and say this is not acceptable, and through sanctions, to try at least to pressure those who are leading such policy, change their policy.
MR BUISINE: (Via interpreter) Well, actually, we’ve heard that those sanctions might not be efficient, so how far are the U.S. ready to go on this issue?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via interpreter) I don’t want to get into hypotheticals. The situation is ongoing and what we’ve seen over the last few months is that more and more countries are speaking out and acting together, including by way of coordinated sanctions.
MR BUISINE: (Via interpreter) Some people are saying maybe it’s not going as far as it should because you’re in the face of China; it’s a large economic power, while the reality is that we cannot avoid China, it’s the reality.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via interpreter) At various levels we need to engage with China and I hope that this engagement can lead to a policy change, but at the same time, we are using the tools at our disposal to try and show that the policy carried out by the Chinese Government has a cost for China itself as well in terms of their political and diplomatic isolation, and also a cost that could potentially be economic as well.
On various challenges and issues, the reality is that there is rarely – sometimes there is, but there’s rarely an easy and quick answer as if you were just flipping on a switch. It just doesn’t work that way.
MR BUISINE: (Via interpreter) So we answered the questions by those who asked about this – many people asked. Don’t hesitate to ask your questions, we will ask them. We will now be giving the floor to Safwan (ph), who is 17 years old and who is from (inaudible) in the Paris region.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) In May, you went to Israel and to the West Bank. How can the U.S. – or how do the U.S. intend to work towards peace in the region?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via interpreter) This is a question that is timely today that we could have also asked last year, five years ago, 10 years ago, 15 years ago – the question doesn’t go away, because the solution is still not there. At first, we had a major issue, the conflict in Gaza. We wanted to put an end to violence as soon as possible, which is what we did. Lots of damage, lots of human loss, but the violence did end and at the moment there are immediate challenges with humanitarian assistance for those who live in Gaza, but there’s also a need to reconstruct Gaza. All of this is ongoing at the moment.
Avoiding in the days, weeks, and months to come any type of provocation or sticking points that could give way to new bouts of violence is another focus of ours, and we also want to work on establishing more confidence and trust between Palestinian and Israelis in order to put in place conditions that are not currently in place to lead to a potential peace process and the establishment of a two-state solution. At this moment in time, these conditions are not in place and we need to work on them, and that is what we’ll do. But in the immediate future, what we need to do is to help the people of Gaza who were caught in the crossfires.
Over the last few weeks, the U.S. has reestablished its diplomatic relations with the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people through humanitarian and economic support, as well as defense and security support. And we are in the process of reopening our consulate, which was closed a few years ago. This is an ongoing process; it takes some time, but it starts with a recommitment on the part of the U.S.
MR BUISINE: (Via interpreter) We can now move on to a question by Illian (ph) who is 18 years old and is from Toulouse.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) The question is around democracies in South America and Central America that are threatened, pushing many people to leave their country. Joe Biden had promised for a more humane immigration policy. By which concrete ways can this be achieved?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via interpreter) Yes, this is an issue that we face almost on a daily basis, but let’s take a step back. Men, women, children who try to come to the U.S. don’t do it because they just wake up one day and think, “Wouldn’t it be nice today to leave everything I’ve known behind –my family, my country, my language, my friends, my town – take an incredibly dangerous trip, be at the hands of traffickers, and end up at the American border which is actually closed? That would be a good way to spend my day.” No. To get to that, there must be certain conditions where there is no alternative, that only the – almost the only way to survive is to leave. And in order to address this issue I think we must resolve those conditions, what pushes people to leave everything they’ve ever known to go to the U.S. or to go to Mexico, et cetera.
And this is President Biden’s policy. We are implementing a program to address what pushes these people to take that trip. Deep issues around security, around governance, corruption, and most importantly, a lack of opportunities. If you don’t have the minimum ability to make a living, to feed your children, then you go to something else.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Well, actually a question around what Vice President Kamala Harris said, which shocked a few people in Guatemala saying to the people, “Do not come.” Do you think this is a mistake?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via interpreter) No. People must understand that the border is currently closed. So having these people risking their life at the hands of traffickers and putting themselves in danger only to realize that there is no access, then we must be very clear because some very dishonest people who are trafficking people are trying to say even through social media, they’re trying to say, “Come, the U.S. are open. You can come and we’ll help you for $5,000.” So she wanted to be very clear on this, and it’s important people hear that. But at the same time we have a tradition, which is also a French tradition despite the difficulties that we are both facing. The tradition is to say, “If people want to seek asylum, then they can do it, and we will study their case. And should they meet the criteria, we can let them in the U.S.”
Same for refugees. We have this amazing tradition, which is to welcome refugees. We have lost that a little recently, but we are trying to rebuild our capacities on this topic. And we need also a functioning system, because the existing system as you seek asylum in the U.S. is absolutely overwhelmed by demand and we are unable to manage that. So we not only need to act on what pushes people to take the trip, but also acting on the resources available to study those cases and see if somebody can come to our country.
MR BUISINE: (Via interpreter) Let’s move on to the Brut questions. I would like to thank you all for your comments. We are going to take those 10 to 15 minutes to ask a few questions from the comments. We have quite a few. We launched some contribution from yesterday, many questions around Julian Assange. He is facing extradition in the U.S. There have been many calls in France and Europe to drop the charges against him. What do you want to answer to this?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via interpreter) It’s not easy for me speak around this issue. There is ongoing legal process, so I will let that legal process continue. I understand the questions, the emotions around this case, but I cannot really speak on this issue.
MR BUISINE: (Via interpreter) Yes, this is quite recurrent, and the question was around how come a whistleblower does not get much protection because this has been a recurrent issue for several years, this issue around extradition.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via interpreter) I understand the question. I understand the emotions. But I must let the legal system work.
MR BUISINE: (Via interpreter) Is that something raised by your administration?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via interpreter) Probably because this is ongoing case.
MR BUISINE: (Via interpreter) Ongoing, okay. Another question from Danny (ph) in the comments. “Do you intend on closing Guantanamo? We know you wanted to, but what’s the timeline? We – even during other mandates, we heard about closing Guantanamo, but when will that be done?”
SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via interpreter) The simple answer is yes. This is part of our policy and we are working on this. There are still around 40 inmates at Guantanamo, and when you have that type of number – 40, not hundreds – then by definition these are the most complex cases. However, we are actively working on this at the moment. We are trying to find a way to act on each individual case.
MR BUISINE: (Via interpreter) Could you make a commitment now that Guantanamo will be closed by the end?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via interpreter) That’s our objective, but I cannot guarantee that or provide a date. But that’s definitely the objective.
MR BUISINE: (Via interpreter) So to sum up, your objective is to have Guantanamo closed by the end of the mandate?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via interpreter) Yes. I wish it could faster than this, but unfortunately it’s complicated. For example, in certain cases you need to find a country that is ready to welcome the person in question. It’s not easy. This requires a lot of diplomacy. And on our part – this might sound weird but if, let’s say, you’re considering sending somebody from Guantanamo to another country in order to close Guantanamo, we must have a guarantee that the rights of these people will be protected in that country. That’s not easy either.
MR BUISINE: (Via interpreter) Another question on Instagram on an issue that we handle on a daily basis. It has to do with climate change. What is the policy of the Biden administration on climate change?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via interpreter) On the first day of our administration, we rejoined the Paris Accords. It was symbolic but it was also important on the substance. President Biden convened a summit on climate in April, just three months after getting into office. He gathered a large majority of those leaders that have the most impact or can have the most impact on climate with a view to having a wider sense of the situation and to also elevate the climate issue. We are currently working towards COP26, which will be held in the U.K. at the end of the year.
There are a couple of things that are important. At the same time, we – with this, which is what we’re trying to do – we must right away, not in 2040, not in 2045, but as of now, this year, but especially this decade is to save our capital because the goals for 2050 will not be attainable if we’re not able to act within this decade, and we’ll never be able to get back the capital that we use. We’ve seen countries that were sort of leaning back and that have now become more involved.
And the second point is that we need a large amount of financing in order to help those countries that do not have the capabilities to do so. For example, to acquire expensive technology or to improve their resilience in the face of climate impacts. There is a fund that we have contributed to and we will continue to do so, and we are trying to make sure that other countries do the same.
On many specific details our government is acting. We’re trying to do this by showing by example. I’ll just dwell on this for a couple of minutes if I may.
There are no big issues that have a bigger impact on our lives that can be managed without cooperation between countries. Climate is one of those. The U.S. is responsible for about 15 percent of emissions in the world. If we did everything perfectly at home, there remains 85 percent of the problem in other countries that need to be managed. And we are trying to do this in a joint manner with the other emitters.
MR BUISINE: (Via interpreter) Right after this meeting – and actually there is one last question: You are going to meet the President of the republic Emmanuel Macron. What will you be covering together?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via interpreter) The problem is that we have so many things to cover and that we’re working on. We could spend hours. I just spent – I was meant to spend 45 minutes with my friend and colleague Jean-Yves Le Drian, the minister of foreign affairs, but we actually spent 90 minutes together and we could have gone longer.
We’ve done a great deal of work within the G7 at the summit, the NATO summit, and at the EU-U.S. summit as well as when President Biden and President Macron met. Our current mission is to continue this work, to continue exchanging on the next steps. For example, at the G7 summit we worked together in order to ensure that 1 billion doses of COVID vaccines would be distributed throughout the world. Now we’re working on how we can work together to increase production capacity in other countries, namely in Africa, and I know this is something that will be brought up because President Macron is a leader on this. And we will also talk about security in the Sahel and so forth. There are many different issues. Many things.
MR BUISINE: (Via interpreter) What topic did you not cover here that you might be covering with the president?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via interpreter) In a way, everything is on the agenda. But what I’d like to underscore first and foremost is what President Biden said when he met President Macron during the G7 summit: Not only do we want but also we need to work together. France is our longest-standing ally. As soon as we became independent and even before, France was at our side and this is still the case today. And I’m confident that in next – rather, I’m confident with the work that we’ve been doing in the first six months. And today, we will continue working together.
MR BUISINE: (Via interpreter) Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Many people are watching us and are seeing that your French is stellar. Thank you to the 34 young people who came here from all over France, including the six individuals who posed questions. Thank you to those who watched us. You are used to the way this works. It will be available in replay mode and we will be back soon. Have a great day and see you soon on Brut.