December 4, 2021

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Secretary Antony J. Blinken  With Margaret Brennan of CBS Face the Nation

21 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Via Teleconference

QUESTION:  We spoke with the Secretary earlier and began by asking him when the U.S. will resume negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, the Iranians have now said that they’re coming back to talks toward the end of November.  We’ll see if they actually do.  That’s going to be important. 

We still believe diplomacy is the best path forward for putting the nuclear program back in the box it had been in under the agreement, the so-called JCPOA.  But we were also looking at, as necessary, other options if Iran is not prepared to engage quickly in good faith to pick up where we left off in June when these talks were interrupted by the change in government in Iran.

QUESTION:  Other options – does that include military?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, as we always say, every option is on the table.  But here’s what’s important:  Iran, unfortunately, is moving forward aggressively with its program.  The time it would take for it to produce enough fissile material for one nuclear weapon is getting shorter and shorter. 

The other thing that’s getting shorter is the runway we have where, if we do get back into compliance with the agreement and Iran gets back into compliance, we actually recapture all of the benefits of the agreement.  Iran is learning enough, doing enough, so that that’s starting to be a problem. 

QUESTION:  Iran carried out a drone attack on U.S. forces in Syria just last week.  Friday, the U.S. announced sanctions related to this program.  Do you think sanctions are going to stop Iran from trying to kill Americans?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  The President is very much prepared to take whatever action is appropriate at a time and place of our choosing by whatever means are appropriate to prevent and stop Iran from engaging in these activities or its proxies engaging in these activities. 

QUESTION:  Let’s talk about climate and the international efforts underway.  The UN says that not a single major economy in the world, U.S. among them, is living up to the targets set back in 2015 in that Paris accord.  America is one of the biggest polluters.  The President’s own domestic agenda faces some uncertain prospects here.  How do you lead when America doesn’t have its own house in order?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, we are leading on this.  The President significantly increased our own ambitions and announced a new so-called nationally determined commitment in terms of what we will do to make sure that we get to net zero.  And John Kerry has been leading our efforts around the world to bring other countries along to raise their ambitions so when we get to Glasgow in just about a day’s time the world comes out together with much stronger commitments that actually get us on the path to keeping to warming that does not exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius.  We’re not there yet.  We have a lot of work to do.

QUESTION:  But these – right.  And these international commitments don’t have teeth. 

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, these are voluntary commitments, but there is increasingly, I think, an understanding that we’re seeing every single day – storms, droughts, all sorts of natural occurrences that have been exacerbated by climate change, conflict driven by climate change, refugees driven by climate change, fights over resources driven by climate change.  This is not tomorrow’s problem.  This is today’s problem, and I think there’s a much greater consciousness of that. 

QUESTION:  When you look around the world, the use of fossil fuels is only going up.  Europe is facing a potential winter fuel crisis.  China has an electricity shortage right now.  Here in the United States, the President has called for OPEC to produce more oil.  The projection is global energy consumption will jump 50 percent by 2050. 

These facts seem very much at odds with the things you’re describing as ambition.  The rhetoric sounds out of step. 

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We’re pushing very importantly in the other direction.  For example, here at the G20 – again, with American leadership – we are pressing to get an agreement to make sure that countries don’t finance coal projects internationally.  This is one of the biggest drivers of emissions around the world. 

But you’re right; we have to actually do what we say and make sure that others that have not made the necessary commitments – including China, now the world’s largest emitter – actually step up and do the right thing. 

QUESTION:  What incentive does China have to act right now?  They seem to be increasingly an adversary of the United States.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, I think the number one interest is in not being a world outlier.  Their own people would benefit dramatically from China taking the necessary steps on climate change.  So would the international community, to the extent that China cares about its – how it’s seen in the world.  It also needs to think about stepping up.

QUESTION:  I want to ask you about Afghanistan.  Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who resigned this month as your envoy, was on this program last Sunday and told us that more could have been done to prevent the collapse of the government in Kabul, including pressing President Ghani harder.  Should you personally have done that?  Should you have been tougher?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I was on the phone with President Ghani on a Saturday night pressing him to make sure he was ready to agree with the plan we were trying to put into effect to do a transfer of power to a new government that would’ve been led by the Taliban but been inclusive and included all aspects of Afghan society.  And he told me on the phone he was prepared to do that, but if the Taliban wouldn’t go along, he was ready to fight to the death.  And the very next day, he fled Afghanistan.  So I was engaged with President Ghani over many weeks, many months. 

QUESTION:  Do you think you did everything you could?  Is that what I hear you saying?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Listen, one of the things we’re doing at the State Department is reviewing everything that we did, going back to 2020 when the agreement was initially reached with the Taliban under the previous administration, including the actions we took during our administration, because we have to learn every possible lesson from the last couple of years but also, by the way, from the last 20 years.  This was America’s longest war.  President Biden ended the longest war; he made sure that another generation of Americans would not have to go to fight and die in Afghanistan.  And I think when all of this settles, that’s profoundly what the American people want and is in our interest.

Meanwhile, we are doing everything we can to make good on our ongoing commitments, including to Afghans at risk that we want to help, and we’ll also learn every lesson we can from the decisions we made.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, thank you for your time today.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Great to be with you, Margaret.  Thank you.  

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