September 28, 2022

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Secretary Antony J. Blinken with Birta Bjornsdottir of Rikisutvarpio

8 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Reykjavik, Iceland

Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center

QUESTION: So welcome to Iceland, Mr. Blinken.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. It’s wonderful to be here.

QUESTION: You met with Iceland’s – Icelandic officials yesterday. Both our prime minister and our president said in interviews after meeting with you that they felt kind of more harmony with the foreign policy of the new U.S. Government that you are a part of, more than the previous one. What have been the main challenges on the international stage taking over for – from the Donald Trump administration?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, it’s – first of all, it’s wonderful to be here, and we had very, very both I think important and positive meetings with our colleagues here, and I can’t be more thankful for the reception that we’ve had.

But we’re very much focused on looking forward, and looking ahead, and there are two things that we’re really focused on. One is strengthening and reinvigorating our partnerships with our closest allies, including Iceland – founding members of NATO together – but also working together on so many different things, whether it’s on climate or on COVID or on new technologies. In fact, I saw some remarkable things on the geothermal side just yesterday.

The other thing that we’re working on is re-engaging in multilateral institutions, including the Arctic Council. And so this was an opportunity to do both, to come here and really put energy into the relationship between the United States and Iceland and also the work we’re doing together on the Arctic Council.

QUESTION: Speaking of the Arctic Council, you emphasized in a press conference yesterday that the Arctic should be an area of peaceful cooperation. What are the biggest threats to that goal, in your opinion?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I think we have to remain focused on the fact that it has been and should remain an area for peaceful cooperation, a place where together the Arctic countries can work on dealing with climate change; can work cooperatively on scientific progress and advancement; can work on the needs of indigenous peoples in the region. And I think we’ve had a good track record to date of doing that.

Now, there are challenges. For example, as the Northern Sea Route gets more and more traffic, there is always the challenge of an accident or a miscommunication. That’s something we have to be very mindful of. But I think it’s an obligation on all of us to keep the focus on peaceful cooperation. That’s been a hallmark. And there are so many other parts of the world where peaceful cooperation is not the norm, and we should be grateful and focused on preserving that here.

QUESTION: The U.S. and NATO have increased military activities in the area in the recent years. How does that align to this off-tension – no-tension strategy, in your opinion?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, NATO is a defensive alliance, and it is fully transparent in everything it does. We’re not hiding what we do and we’re focused on making sure that if there are challenges or threats to security, that we’re able and prepared to meet those challenges and to defend the interests and values that bring us together. But I think what stands out about NATO and our two countries as founding members is it’s profoundly – it’s defensive in nature and it’s open about everything it does.

QUESTION: I have to ask you about a comment from your Russian counterpart, Mr. Sergey Lavrov, that made headlines on Monday, when he stated that the Arctic is their territory and their land. What is your response to that comment?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I think we know that there is a lot of – eight different countries that are here, that have their interests, their rights that come together. But we do that in a way that, as I say, emphasizes cooperation and preserves this region as one of peace and progress. So I hope that all of us stay focused on that.

QUESTION: And speaking of Mr. Lavrov, the world has shown great interest in your upcoming meeting later tonight. There’s been a notable change, a maybe more direct approach, towards Russian officials from the Biden administration. To name an example, Mr. Biden agreed to a question of whether Vladimir Putin is a killer in an interview in March. Will your approach in the meeting be similar to that?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: I’m looking forward to seeing the foreign minister. We have a lot to talk about, and in particular, it’s likely that our two presidents will meet in the weeks ahead, so I think we will want to talk about that, what – make sure that we each understand what the other would like to talk about when they meet.

But for the United States, I can tell you this: We would welcome having a stable, predictable relationship with Russia. We have so many challenges that our countries are facing, particularly COVID-19 and both dealing with that, building our economies back in a way that meets the needs of our people, that I think being in conflict doesn’t serve anyone’s interest.

So our preference would be to have a stable, predictable relationship. At the same time, we will always stand up for our interests and values if they’re being challenged by anyone.

QUESTION: You mentioned about this potential meeting between Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin. Is this kind of a rehearsal for that potential meeting and will you two be laying any groundwork for that to work out?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, look, when these meetings happen they always have to be well-prepared to be as productive as possible, and I think one of the responsibilities that I have and that Foreign Minister Lavrov has is to do just that. So that’s certainly one of the things we’ll talk about.

QUESTION: After your experience, would you recommend Iceland as a meeting place?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Absolutely, I would recommend it as a meeting place; I would recommend it to anyone, and by the way, that’s what I’ll be doing when I get back home. And I’m very much looking forward to the opportunity to come back and maybe spend a little bit more time.

QUESTION: I have to ask you a bit about the situation in the Middle East, which has dominated the world news again. Mr. Biden has, of course, expressed support for a ceasefire. He did that on Monday, but Israel has, of course, been one of the largest recipients of U.S. foreign assistance for decades. Can U.S. be seen as an honest broker here?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, two things. First, we’ve been very clear about our commitment to the proposition that Israel, of course, has the right to defend itself, as any country would, from attack. And what we’ve seen from Gaza have been attacks launched by a terrorist group, Hamas, indiscriminately targeting civilians in Israel. And so it has a right to defend itself. But Palestinians and Israelis alike also have a right to live in peace and security, and I think Israel has an extra burden as a democracy to do everything it possibly can in these kinds of situations to make sure that civilians are protected. I think you’ve probably heard the President today, President Biden today, having spoken to Prime Minister Netanyahu, and our expectation that there will be, starting now, a de-escalation en route to a ceasefire. That’s what we’re looking for.

QUESTION: The U.S. have now blocked three times in one week the adoptation of a joint UN Security Council calling for – to a halt to Israel and the Palestinian violence. Why is that? And how does that rhyme with this demand for peace?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: We’ve been engaged in very intensive diplomacy, and most of it’s quiet, it’s on the phone, it’s in meetings, but it’s comprehensive and it’s intensive, starting with President Biden, who’s been on the phone repeatedly with Prime Minister Netanyahu, with President Abbas, with other leaders, myself, and other colleagues. And we just want to make sure that anything we’re doing is going to actually advance the prospect of ending the violence, and then hopefully moving to more positive things. And so we will look at anything we think can advance that prospect, the prospect for peace, and if we think it does, we’ll support it. But our focus has been on this quiet diplomacy, trying to get to a place where the violence ceases, and we can start to focus on more positive things.

QUESTION: But although everyone seems to agree that the situation is not acceptable, there has been little progress towards a future – futuristic peaceful solution. Don’t we need to change courses or do something else?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, as – again, as the President said – President Biden said today, our expectation is that we are going to see a de-escalation in violence on the path to a ceasefire. And that’s what we’re looking toward. We continue our own diplomacy and our own efforts in that direction.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask you a bit about you grew up partly in France.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: That’s right.

QUESTION: Do you think that experience has benefited you for this job to be the Secretary of State?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: I think so. I certainly hope so. Anyone who has the opportunity to live outside their own country, I think it’s a wonderful experience, but one of the things that it does is it opens your eyes to different perspectives, to different cultures, and it also helps you see your own country in different ways through the eyes of others. I hope that’s been helpful because when it comes to diplomacy, to the responsibilities I have now, one of the most important things is to be able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. And having the opportunity to live abroad and have that experience at such a young age, I hope at least, has helped me do that.

QUESTION: I’ve been told our time’s up, but I have one final question for you, and then we, of course, focus on the most important stuff. You’re a musician. You are – have a couple of songs on Spotify. Do you have time for your music in your life now in your new, I imagine, busy job?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Not as much as I’d like, but I try to steal a few moments whenever I can. It’s something that has been a constant in my life. I wish I had an opportunity to play more. I certainly need the practice. But at least I get an opportunity to listen and to have that really be such a positive source of inspiration in my life.

QUESTION: Have more people listened to your songs on Spotify since you became the Secretary of State?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: The truth of the matter is – but it was – the – is yes. But since it was starting from an extremely low level, that wasn’t very difficult.

QUESTION: Thank you so much for your time, Mr. Blinken.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks.

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