December 3, 2021

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Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Dana Bash of CNN State of the Union

24 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Via Teleconference

QUESTION:  Joining me now from Rome is the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken.  Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for joining me.  I want to start by what happened here in the U.S.  President Biden went to Capitol Hill.  He asked for a deal before he left for COP26.  And Speaker Pelosi told House Democrats not to, quote, “embarrass” President Biden on the world stage.  But as you know, the President is arriving there with no major climate plan signed into law. 

So in the words of Speaker Pelosi, is he going to be embarrassed arriving in Scotland without a deal in hand?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, look, happily I don’t do politics in my job, but let me say this:  What I’m seeing here in Rome is a deep appreciation for American re-engagement, American leadership, and it’s making a huge difference on issues that are actually going to have an impact on the lives on Americans. 

We’re here at the G20, the world’s largest economies, and with this American leadership, with this American engagement, we’ve struck dramatic progress.  We have a global minimum tax agreement.  That’s an incredibly big deal; it’s something we’ve been working on for a long time.  We’ve gotten that over the finish line.  That means that instead of having this race to the bottom where companies are moving to the countries that are offering the lowest tax rates and taking jobs out of the United States, we’ve now got a level playing field around the world.  That’s a product of our engagement, our leadership.  Secretary Yellen and her team have done an amazing job on that. 

We’ve got significant progress, too, on getting – ending a dispute between the United States and our closest Europeans partners where we were engaged in a tariff war over steel and aluminum.  That’s now gotten resolved.  That, too, is going to help American workers, help American businesses, help American consumers.  American icons like Harley-Davidson are now not going to be subject to retaliation from Europeans, and we’re now on the same page with our closest allies and partners.

We – and across the board in areas that are really making a difference.  There’s an agreement now not to finance coal projects around the world.  This is one of the largest drivers of emissions.  And going into Glasgow, again, as a result of American engagement and American leadership, we’re getting that over the finish line, and that means we’re going to make more progress on climate change.

QUESTION:  So Mr. Secretary, let’s talk about climate change, because you know that the Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin – they’re not even going to go to the climate summit in person.  So how do you meet your goals at this summit when two of the world’s biggest polluters aren’t even showing up?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, two things, Dana.  First, here at the G20, they’re not here either.  We are.  President Biden is.  And that in and of itself is making a difference in driving forward our agenda, driving forward the issues that we care about.

QUESTION:  Yeah, and I understand that, but does it –

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  In terms of Glasgow – so in terms of Glasgow —

QUESTION:  But the climate is a global thing where everybody has to agree to bring the crisis down.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  It is.  It is.  And I think it’s ultimately going to be up to China, as now currently the world’s largest emitter, to decide whether it is going to do the right and important thing for its own people but also for everyone around the world.  Because it’s – you’re right.  Unless we’re all in this together in making the – taking the steps necessary to keep warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, then it’s going to be a problem. 

And ultimately, I think what you’re going to see in Glasgow is most of the major emitters in the world coming together, raising their ambitions in terms of the commitments they’re making to combat climate change – the United States not only doing that, but also putting in the funding necessary to help countries that need help with adaptation, with resilience, to do that. 

Beijing is going to have to decide whether it’s going to live up to its responsibilities, starting with its own people who are affected directly by climate change. 

QUESTION:  So you mentioned the 1.5 degree goal.  That’s what the Paris Climate Agreement says that global warming needs to keep under that.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  That’s right.

QUESTION:  The UN said just this week that the world is on track to hit a calamitous 2.7 degrees warmer by the end of the century.  So is it fair to say that the world is not going to keep warming under 1.5 degrees?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Look, right now we’re not on track to do that.  That’s why Glasgow is so important, and we’re going to see what emerges from Glasgow in terms of the commitments that countries make.  But it’s not just Glasgow.  This is a critical moment, but it’s also a jumping-off point going into next year to continue to do everything possible.

What President Biden has talked about is seeing this as a decisive decade between now and 2030.  Because whatever goals we set for 2050, including making sure that we keep warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius, if we’re not taking the steps over the next eight to ten years to actually do that, we won’t hit the target.  But Glasgow is a critical milestone, but there’s going to be a lot of work following from Glasgow.

QUESTION:  President Biden said at CNN’s town hall last week that the U.S. would come to Taiwan’s defense if China invaded.  Your spokesperson said there is no change in U.S. position.  So I just want to clarify:  Has the U.S. committed directly to the Taiwanese government that it will come to Taiwan’s defense if China invades?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  There is no change in our policy.  We’ve had a longstanding commitment that, by the way, then-Senator Biden strongly supported when he was in the United States Senate, a longstanding commitment pursuant to the Taiwan Relations Act to make sure that Taiwan has the means to defend itself, and we stand by that.  The President stood by that strongly, and we want to make sure that no one takes any unilateral action that would disrupt the status quo with regard to Taiwan.  That hasn’t changed.

QUESTION:  You are the Secretary of State, and that was very, very perfect diplo-speak, so I just wanted – for people who don’t speak that language, can you clarify what that exactly means?  Are you now saying that the United States would not come to Taiwan’s defense if attacked?  Can you be specific, yes or no?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Dana, again, what I can tell you is that we remain committed, resolutely committed, to our responsibilities under the Taiwan Relations Act, including making sure that Taiwan has the ability to defend itself from any aggression.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Just one more follow on that.  The President said specifically that the U.S. would.  That’s not what you’re saying, correct?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  The President has for a long time, including when he was a senator voting for the Taiwan Relations Act, made clear that we will do everything necessary to make sure that Taiwan has the means to defend itself.

QUESTION:  Okay, let’s talk about Iran.  The G20 is also addressing the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons this week ahead of renewed negotiations about the nuclear deal in Vienna.  So is the U.S. prepared to increase pressure on Iran to get them back to the table?  And if so, what does that pressure look like?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, two things.  First, President Biden got together here in Rome with his German, his French, and his British counterparts.  We are absolutely in lockstep together on how we’re approaching the challenge of getting Iran back into compliance with the nuclear agreement, and that’s new because we had actually been at odds in recent years over that when the United States pulled out of the agreement.  We’re now fully coordinated and working on this together.

QUESTION:  What is that lockstep?  What does it look like?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So, two things.  We continue to believe that diplomacy is the best way to deal with the challenges, the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program, in particular – particularly, unfortunately, the steps it’s taken since we pulled out and in recent months to make that program increasingly dangerous.  There’s still a window through which Iran can come back to the talks and we can come back to mutual compliance with the agreement, and that would be the best result.  But it really depends on whether Iran is serious about doing that. 

All of our countries – working, by the way, with Russia and China – believe strongly that that would be the best path forward, but we do not yet know whether Iran is willing to come back and to engage in a meaningful way and get back into compliance.  If it isn’t, if it won’t, then we are looking together at all of the options necessary to deal with this problem.

QUESTION:  I also want to ask about Afghanistan.  I want you to listen – our viewers to listen to what you said two months ago about Americans still in Afghanistan:  “We believe there are still a small number of Americans – under 200, and likely closer to 100 – who remain in Afghanistan and want to leave.”

So we now believe that there are still close to 200 Americans trying to get out of Afghanistan even after you evacuated more than 200 already.  So is it acceptable to you that so many Americans are still, two months later, trying to get out of Afghanistan?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Dana, let’s be very clear about this, because I think there is a tremendous amount of confusion about this issue that’s built up in recent months.  And give me just one second and I’ll try and explain it.

First, going back to March of this year, well before the President made his decision, well before Afghanistan imploded, the government and the military imploded, we started sending messages to those who had American passports in Afghanistan – 19 between March and July – urging them to leave the country.  By the time the government did implode in August, there were still about 6,000 left, and there’s a good reason for that.  These are people whose entire lives were in Afghanistan.  Their families were there.  Their extended families were there.  They – that’s what they knew.  And so it’s an incredibly wrenching decision to leave.

So about 6,000 left at that point.  During the evacuation, the extraordinary evacuation in which we got about 125,000 people out of Afghanistan, we got virtually all of the 6,000 who remained out.  There were still several hundred who had told us they – at that point that they wanted to get out who were not able to get out by the 31st.  And what we’ve said was we – there is no deadline to this effort, we will continue to get them out. 

Since August 31st, as of today, we’ve gotten out – of the Americans left who said that they wanted to leave – about 340.  But what’s happened since is this:  More people have come forward in two ways.  There were some small number of Americans in Afghanistan who didn’t want to leave, who have now seen that we’ve successfully been able to get some of the few remaining Americans out, who have now come forward and said we do want to leave.  And there are a couple of hundred of those who are ready to leave, and we will work to get them out. 

Similarly, since August 31st, other people have come forward who had not previously identified themselves as having an American passport.  They have now come forward to say that they do.  We verified that, and if they say they want to come out, we will bring them out as well. 

But we’ve demonstrated exactly what we said in August, which is even as we worked to get as many people out as we could before we left the airport, we were convinced that we would be able to continue to do that, and we’ve done that.

QUESTION:  Secretary of State Antony Blinken, thank you so much for clarifying that and thank you for your time.  Appreciate it.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks for having me.  Good to be with you.

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    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Bureau of Indian Education (BIE), within the Department of the Interior (Interior), has not provided BIE-funded schools with comprehensive guidance on distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2020, BIE issued a short memo directing schools to “deliver flexible instruction” and “teach content,” but did not offer specific guidance on how to do so. In July 2020, 13 of the 25 schools that responded to GAO's survey said they wanted BIE to provide information on developing and implementing distance learning programs. In addition, 12 schools responded that they wanted information on distance learning methods for areas without broadband internet access. In August 2020, after some schools had already begun the school year, BIE issued a re-opening guide for the 2020-2021 school year. BIE's guidance focused primarily on preparations for in-person instruction at schools, although nearly all schools provided distance learning during the fall of 2020. The guidance contained little information on distance learning. Providing schools with comprehensive distance learning guidance will help them better navigate the current pandemic as well as potential future emergencies that lead to school building closures. BIE helped improve internet access for students at BIE-operated schools during the pandemic, but many students had not received laptops to access online learning by the end of fall 2020. BIE and other Interior offices provided over 7,000 hotspots to students to improve home internet access, but they did not order laptops for most students until September 2020. Interior officials said a nationwide IT supply shortage contributed to the delayed order for about 10,000 laptops. GAO found, however, that delays were also caused in part by BIE not having complete and accurate information on schools' IT needs. Most schools received laptops from late October 2020 to early January 2021, although some laptops still had not been delivered as of late March 2021. Once laptops were delivered, however, schools also faced challenges configuring them, leading to further delays in distributing them to students. BIE officials told GAO that to address schools' challenges with configuring laptops, they are assessing schools' IT workforce needs. Most BIE students did not receive laptops until months after the school year began, according to GAO's analysis of Interior information. Specifically, none of the laptops Interior ordered in early September 2020 arrived in time to distribute to students by the start of the school year in mid-September; by the end of December 2020, schools had not distributed over 80 percent of the student laptops Interior ordered; and as of late March 2021, schools had not distributed about 20 percent of the student laptops Interior ordered. Without accurate, complete, and up-to-date information on schools' IT needs, BIE was unable to ensure that students received laptops when they needed them. Establishing policies and procedures for assessing schools' IT needs would help guide the agency's IT purchases now and in the future, and position schools to integrate technology into their everyday curricula. Why GAO Did This Study BIE's mission is to provide quality education to approximately 41,000 students at 183 schools it funds on or near Indian reservations in 23 states. About two-thirds of these schools are operated by tribes and the remaining third are operated by BIE. In March 2020, all BIE schools closed their buildings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. GAO reviewed distance learning at BIE schools as part of its oversight responsibilities under the CARES Act. This testimony examines the extent to which (1) BIE has provided schools with guidance to develop and implement distance learning programs during the COVID-19 pandemic, and (2) students have had the technology they need to participate in such programs. GAO analyzed the guidance BIE provided to schools on distance learning, examined BIE's provision of technology to schools and students, surveyed a non-generalizable sample of 30 schools—including 19 operated by tribes and 11 operated by BIE— with 25 schools responding, selected for geographic diversity and level of community broadband access, among other criteria, reviewed relevant federal statutes, regulations, and agency documentation, and interviewed BIE and school officials.
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  • Department of State Offers Reward for Information to Bring Mexican Drug Trafficking Cartel Member to Justice
    In Crime Control and Security News
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