Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
QUESTION: As COVID-19 cases rise once again in America, health officials say the Delta variant is now the most dominant strain not only in the U.S., but across the world. This setback comes just weeks after the Biden administration pledged to lead the way in global vaccination efforts. Will the virus’s re-emergence at home slow down efforts to vaccinate the rest of the world?
Joining us now, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Tony, it’s great to have you back on the show and to speak with you. And I guess we’ll start right there. As we – as it pertains to the coronavirus, how will the United States collaborate on the world stage, lead on the world stage, when you have a rejection of the vaccine here at home that is creating a pandemic among the unvaccinated?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Mika, first, it’s great to see you and great to be with you too. Look, we are leading on both fronts – at home and around the world. And we have to do both because as long as this virus is out there anywhere replicating, we’re going to see more variants, and those variants are going to come back and bite us, as we’re already experiencing with Delta. And so as we’re pursuing every effort to get every American vaccinated, we’re also very much engaged in the world at the President’s direction.
And as you know, we had vaccines in our stockpile, 80 million that we’re making available to countries around the world. We started doing that about a month ago. Of the 80 million, 60 million have been distributed. And the President announced when he was in Europe at the G7 that the United States was going to purchase 500 million, a half a billion vaccines to distribute around the world – no strings attached – to countries around the world to make sure that we can do everything we can to win this race against variants.
The other thing that’s happening is because of our leadership, other countries are stepping up. The G7 countries, our European partners, Japan are also committing additional vaccines. And production is increasing. What we have to do is get to a place where we’re getting as many vaccines as we possibly can to as many countries, as many people as fast as we can. If we do that, we can get ahead of the variants and win the race.
QUESTION: So I understand you’re announcing a trip where you will take this show on the road and this message on the road. I’d like to hear more about that and I’d like to push you a little bit on the pandemic among the unvaccinated here at home, which really appears to be based on disinformation. We’re hearing even Republican governors like Kay Ivey just fed up with the disinformation and with the choice of people to not vaccinate themselves, to not protect themselves from a virus that could kill them. Meanwhile, there is many countries around the world just hoping to get their hands on the vaccine.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, Mika, that’s right, and look, we know it. The numbers are very, very clear. Of the people hospitalized now or people dying from COVID-19 in the United States, 97, 98, 99 percent are unvaccinated. It’s as clear and stark as that. That’s the reality. And hopefully, as more and more people speak out about this, people will listen and take action. And this is not a partisan issue. It’s an American issue. We’re all in this together, and I hope everyone will do what is necessary to protect ourselves against COVID-19.
And yes, I’m going to India this week. This is such a critical country in the fight against COVID-19. The Indians stood up for us in the early days when we were having great challenges, helping to provide PPE, for example. We’ve now stood up for them as they have encountered wave after wave of COVID-19, including providing more than a quarter of a billion dollars of assistance to them. We have millions of vaccines ready to go to them when they finish their own legal process to bring them in. And India is the leading country when it comes to the production of vaccines.
Of course, they’re focused understandably on their own internal challenges now, but when that production engine gets fully going and can distribute again to the rest of the world, that’s going to make a big difference, too. So I’ll be talking to our Indian friends about that next week.
QUESTION: Will you be addressing in the weeks and months to come the disinformation from U.S. tech companies, perhaps even happening abroad, where companies like Facebook and others have so much information that is just flat wrong about COVID and is leading to deadly decisions on the part of people around the world?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Look, Mika, all we can do is ask everyone to step up to their responsibilities, to try to get accurate information out there to people who need it, whether that’s here at home or whether that’s around the world. And ultimately, because this is a global challenge, because no one is safe until everyone is safe, countries or groups that may engage in misinformation or disinformation are doing themselves ultimately a huge disservice.
And so what we can do, what we have to do, what we are doing, is making sure, one, that the right information gets out there, and two, the resources get out there, the vaccines get out there, the production’s out there. One of the other things we’re doing is investing now in production in different parts of the world – for example, in Africa. We need to make sure that we’re doing that both to get ahead of COVID-19, this pandemic, but also to set ourselves up for the next time. Because unfortunately, there will be a next time. But we have to make sure that we’re in a much better place around the world to prevent it, to see it, to mitigate it more effectively than we’re able to do this time.
QUESTION: I want to move on to Cuba, which has seen protests over the past few weeks. And yesterday the White House announced new sanctions against Cuba’s defense minister and special forces brigade for the suppression of peaceful protests. What are those sanctions, and what happens if there is not the result the United States would like to see in reaction, in response to those sanctions?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, Mika, I think what we saw just a little over a week ago is quite extraordinary. Thousands of people, tens of thousands of people taking to the streets across Cuba – not just in Havana but in dozens of cities and towns across Cuba – to say they’re fed up – fed up with the repression, fed up with the lack of freedom, fed up with the fact that they don’t have food and medicines, that they have a government that is not providing for them, and making their voices heard. And I think it’s evidence of a government that – and a regime that certainly lacks confidence in itself when it has to try to stifle the voices of its own people.
The smartest thing the regime in Cuba can do is to listen to its own people instead of repress them. But unfortunately, they are – they continue to repress them, they took violent action against those who were speaking up. We went ahead and sanctioned the leaders of the military, the leaders of something called the Black Berets. They were on the front lines of taking violent action against people speaking out for their freedom, speaking out for their needs. We’ll continue to do that.
And also it’s very important that the Cuban people have an ability to communicate, and one of the things we’re very focused on now, working with the private sector, working with others, is doing everything we can to make sure that they have internet access so they can speak to one another, so they can have contact and communication with folks off the island. That is a very active effort.
QUESTION: And is the regime responding, showing any signs of improvement, of responding to what the United States is requiring for the sanctions to either be pulled back or for more sanctions not to come their way?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: No. We haven’t seen that kind of response. The regime tends to double down in these situations. But again, this is not about us. This is about the Cuban people. And I think one of the big mistakes the regime makes is to try to point the finger at the United States, saying we’re responsible for these protests. We’re not. These are the Cuban people. They are speaking up. They are standing – they’re speaking out. They’re standing up. And a regime that doesn’t understand that and that has – lacks the confidence to allow the voices of its own people to be heard I think is making a very, very big mistake.
QUESTION: Let’s jump to Russia and the issue of cyberwarfare, which I think also then ends us up in China. (Laughter.) What is the United States prepared to do to make sure this doesn’t happen again? What’s next, when the next attack happens, to kind of send a message to Vladimir Putin that there’s a new sheriff in town?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I think that message has been sent and, as necessary, will be sent again. The – President Biden addressed this directly with President Putin, both at the meeting in Geneva that I took part in as well as more recently on the phone. And one of the things that we’re seeing, as you know, is an increased use of so-called ransomware. And this is tremendously destructive. Overall, one-in-four Americans has been a victim of a cyber crime. About $40 billion lost on an annual basis. And ransomware in particular is increasingly dangerous. And what we’ve made clear to Russia, but to other countries around the world, is if you’re harboring individuals or organizations engaged in cyber crime, engaged in ransomware, that is unacceptable. And if you will not take action against them, we will.
QUESTION: Secretary Blinken, it’s Willie Geist. Good to see you this morning.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Hey, Willie.
QUESTION: I want to ask you about Afghanistan. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Milley, said the other day that the Taliban has strategic momentum, that it may well over-run the country, though he didn’t concede that point just yet. So as the troops come home from Afghanistan, how should Americans be thinking about the mission there from our point of view? If it does become a training ground for terrorists again, if there does – some threat is posed to the United States, what will be the American reaction there?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, Willie, we’re determined that it not become a training ground for terrorism directed against the United States or our allies and partners. That’s exactly why we went there in the first place, which is important to remember. We were attacked on 9/11, we went to Afghanistan to get the folks who attacked us, to bring them to justice. Osama bin Laden was brought to justice 10 years ago, and the group, al-Qaida, responsible for those attacks has been dramatically diminished in terms of its capacity to attack anyone from Afghanistan. We’re going to make sure that we keep our eyes on that. If we see the threat re-emerging, we’re going to be in a position to take action against it. But that’s why we were there, and now we’re 20 years and a trillion dollars and thousands of Americans lost later in this – in that campaign. I think the reason we went there is what we have to keep the focus on, and we’ve largely succeeded in doing what we needed to do.
We do have deep concerns about the actions the Taliban is taking indicating that it may be trying to take the country by force, but were that to happen, Afghanistan would be a pariah state. It would not get the assistance that it’s looking for and that the Taliban says it wants if it has any responsibility for the country. It would not get the support from the international community that it says it wants. We’re actively engaged in diplomacy because there is no military solution to this conflict that’s been going on for more than 40 years in Afghanistan, and we’re working to try to bring that to an end.
But one other thing: We’re sustaining our support through our embassy, through other embassies for the Afghan people, and at the same time we’re working to make good on our commitment to those who helped us and put their lives on the line – interpreters, translators – they’re benefiting from a program called Special Immigrant Visa programs that allow them to seek visas to come to the United States. We are moving very, very rapidly ahead with that program.
QUESTION: When you say “take action,” Mr. Secretary, is that airstrikes? Or can you see a world where American troops are back in Afghanistan?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Look, I don’t want to get into hypotheticals about where this might go in the future. What I can tell you, Willie, is that we’re going to make sure that we have the capacity to see if the terrorist threat from Afghanistan re-emerges and to be in a position to do something about it.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, a final question, and it’s not really a fun one, but I have to ask. We had a president for four years who openly admitted to getting dirt on political rivals from a foreign leader, meeting without notetakers with Vladimir Putin, having these meetings with Kim Jong-un, which were a joke at best. Geo-strategically, how much ground was lost during the Donald Trump presidency with his corrupt and undemocratic approach to foreign policy? Are we less secure, and if so, how much?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, Mika, happily, in my job, I don’t do politics. I’m focused on the future. But I can tell you this: Just a short while ago, the President traveled to Europe. He met with our G7 partners, with our NATO Allies, with our partners in the European Union, and then, of course, he met with Vladimir Putin. And he has asked us these first six months of the administration to focus first and foremost on revitalizing our relationships, our partnerships with allies, with partners. That’s exactly what we’ve done. And there was a very, very telling poll that came out during his trip. Across the democratic countries that we’ve been engaged with and that the President engaged with in Europe, on average, 75 percent of the people have confidence, trust in American leadership. That’s up from 17 percent a year ago. I think that speaks volumes.
QUESTION: Secretary of State Antony Blinken, thank you so much for coming on the show this morning, and we look forward to hearing about the trip to India and the fight against COVID. Thank you, Mr. Secretary.