Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
QUESTION: Secretary Blinken, nice of you to make the time. Appreciate it.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s good to be with you.
QUESTION: Obviously we’re doing this in strange circumstances. It must be hard to be a diplomat in these times right now. I’m going to start on that very issue – on the pandemic – because I know it’s top of mind for the administration and certainly the Canadian Government. Has Canada asked your administration to scrap the executive order aimed at keeping U.S.-produced vaccines inside the United States?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, what I think we’re all working on is making sure that we can get – produce as many vaccines as possible and ultimately get them out to everyone who needs them wherever they are, because at the end of the day, none of us are going to be fully safe until everyone in every part of the world is vaccinated. You know that as long as the virus is alive somewhere, it’s probably going to be mutating, and if it’s mutating, it can come back to bite us. The United States, as you know, has just rejoined – or joined COVAX, the international vaccine alliance, and Govi that – Gavi, excuse me – that goes with it. We have a commitment of $4 billion into that effort, and I think what you’re going to see in the weeks ahead is greater and greater production, and thus greater and greater access of vaccines around the world, including in Canada.
QUESTION: You are vaccinating your citizens at a much faster rate than Canada, in part because you have the pharmaceutical giants producing the vaccine within the country. Is there – in what scenario would your closest neighbor and ally start to be able to tap into that production? Is it once everyone has been vaccinated in the U.S.?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, we’re working on a framework right now for how we can maximize the availability of vaccines. Of course, we’re focused on getting every American vaccinated, and that’s job one, but we’re also looking at the same time in how we can help get vaccines around the world, because again, this goes to both the right thing to do but the necessary thing to do for our own well-being. And I think the commitment of $4 billion to COVAX is a very clear sign of our commitment to that effort.
QUESTION: We are coming up on the one-year anniversary of the border between Canada and the U.S. being shut down, such an extraordinary move. I know in the conversations with the prime minister and the President this week, that was part of the roadmap, looking at the science that would allow us to open the border. What has to be in place, in your mind, before we can consider doing that?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, look, let’s start with the fact that I think we’ve managed this remarkably well. We’ve kept the border going in the sense that we’ve had essential travel that has gone forward. We’ve made sure that the supply chains and trade could keep going despite the restrictions. And, of course, we’ve both been focused on public health and public safety. So we’re going to follow the science, we’re going to follow the facts, and make sure that together as we all bounce back from COVID, we can get this going as quickly and as effectively and as deeply as possible.
We have a 5,000-mile border, and it’s one of the most remarkable things in the world because it’s a – not just a peaceful border, it is a living border that brings our two countries together, our people together every single day. I’m glad that we found ways to keep things going even during COVID, and now as we both emerge from it, I’m confident we’ll get to that place that we both want.
QUESTION: But do you have the points that you want to see in order to get to that place? I mean, does Canada have to be fully vaccinated? Are you looking at more rapid testing? What kinds of things are you considering in order to reach that?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We have our experts looking at that. Of course, the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control, are in the lead and we’re going to follow their guidance.
QUESTION: So do you anticipate we are still looking at months yet of the border being closed?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I don’t want to put a time stamp on it. I think we have to follow the progress that we’re all making in combating the disease and getting people vaccinated, and again, following the science. And you know it is changing mostly for the good every single day. I think we’ve made very rapid progress in the last few weeks. At the same time, we have variants that are popping up. We have to be on guard against those and we all have to remain disciplined, because the closer we get to actually getting over the hump and dealing effectively with COVID-19, it’s easy to let down your guard. People are tired, they’re frustrated, and I understand that profoundly. But if we can just keep our guard up and keep our vigilance a little while longer, we’re going to get to the other side.
QUESTION: A couple questions about trade, if I can. I know that you have a buy America provision in the executive order. I know that you’ve reassured Canada that it will be consulted as you move forward with the – developing the policy around that. Is your administration willing to consider an exemption for Canada writ large or some of the industries within Canada? What is the approach on that?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first, the buy America provisions have been on the books for a long time, and this goes to government procurement. This goes to how governments spend taxpayers’ money and the focus there.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: But we have – we are each other’s largest trading partners. We have a remarkably vibrant commercial and trade relationship. I think the potential going forward, particularly as we’re trying to build more resilient supply chains, something that’s really been I think impressed upon both countries with regard to – after COVID-19 and also some of the challenges posed by China, there is huge opportunity there.
And the other, I think, really big opportunity is, precisely as we rebound from COVID-19, we both have a strong incentive to work together on a whole series of projects as well as to make sure that that trading relationship, already arguably the strongest in the world, grows even stronger.
QUESTION: So you could understand our apprehension and wariness, though, given the past four years that Canada has experienced. So should we – so Canada should just take your word that this will all be okay, and we don’t need anything in writing or a clear exemption?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, look, we have the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement that was reached building upon original agreements from a couple of decades ago. But more to the point –
SECRETARY BLINKEN: — we already have this incredibly vibrant relationship that I am convinced, particularly given some of the new imperatives on supply chains and bouncing back and building back better from COVID-19 where we are such natural partners, I am very confident we’re going to see real growth and expansion in that relationship.
QUESTION: Okay. I’m going to move on to China, which, as you know, is of a real concern to this country right now. You have said China is the most significant threat against American national interests. Do you think that Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, the two Canadians being detained in China right now, are being held hostage essentially?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I was pleased – it’s unfortunate it was necessary, but I was very pleased to join the Canadian initiative on the arbitrary detentions that some states, starting with China, are engaged in. Using people, human beings, as pawns for political purposes, it is totally unacceptable conduct by any country. And so we stand strongly with Canada when it comes to the need to see the two Michaels released immediately and unconditionally. We will continue to stand with Canada on that. I have made that clear in my own conversations with Chinese counterparts. And we look forward to the day when they are able to return home.
QUESTION: In December, I’m sure you know that there were some reports that the United States had approached Meng Wanzhou, the Huawei vice president, about the possibility of a deferred prosecution agreement, a sort of plea deal. Is that still being considered? Because clearly, China believes that these two cases, these three people, are connected.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: All of these matters are matters for our Department of Justice to look at and consider. We follow the law. We follow the facts. And one of the things that we don’t do is have politics or foreign policy interfere in the workings of the Justice Department. So these are matters that are properly in their jurisdiction.
QUESTION: So you have no knowledge about whether that continues or whether that’s a possibility?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yeah, I’d refer you to the Justice Department.
QUESTION: You’ve told your – you’ve told Chinese officials that the U.S. will continue to press China over its human rights record in Xinjiang and elsewhere, for that matter. What does that mean practically? What could the United States further do to reprimand China?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I think there are a few things. First of all, it is really important to speak up, to speak out, and to do so with other countries who share our abhorrence at what is – what’s happening to Uyghurs in Xinjiang or, for that matter, what’s happening to democracy in Hong Kong.
But in terms of practical measures, I think there are a number of things that can be done. For example, countries should not be supplying any products or technology that can be used for the repression of people in China; for example, the Uyghurs. Similarly, countries should look at making sure they’re not importing products that are made with forced labor. Those are very practical things that countries can do and focus on to make sure that not only is our voice loud but our actions are too.
QUESTION: I’m sure you know that our parliament this week voted to condemn what was happening, yes, but also to suggest that it is indeed a genocide. However, cabinet and the prime minister abstained from that decision saying they needed more information. Have you given the Canadian Government information to support confirmation that it is, in fact, a genocide we are seeing there?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I think each country, each government needs to make its own assessment, its own determination following its laws and practices. We’ve made clear what we believe, and we look to other countries to make their own determinations.
QUESTION: So you – do you – you believe it is a genocide; is that accurate?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yes, I have said so, and I’ve made that clear on behalf of the United States. President Biden, more importantly, has said so as well.
QUESTION: And what would be the benefit of a multilateral declaration by countries led by the United States and Canada too of declaring it a genocide? What would be the impact of that, Secretary?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Look, I think as a general matter we are much more effective when – in dealing with some of the challenges that China poses when we are doing it together. When countries, democracies, are working together, speaking together, acting together, it’s a lot harder for China to ignore our collective voice and our collective weight than it is for China to ignore each of us individually. So I think there is – there’s power in numbers. And ultimately, the world coming together when it sees basic principles and basic standards violated is important in and of itself.
QUESTION: Are you confident that because the Biden administration and yourself are now bringing this position on China to the world that the two Canadians will be released sooner rather than later?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Look, I certainly very, very much hope so. And again, the initiative that Canada took to have countries speak as one and join as one against the arbitrary detention by states of their citizens is a significant and important initiative, because what we have to do among – obviously, we have to focus on bringing the two Michaels home. But more broadly, we have to work together to establish a basic norm in international conduct that this is simply unacceptable. That takes time. It takes effort. It takes sustained effort.
If you go back – it’s a very different thing, but it’s the same basic principle. After World War I there was an abhorrence of the use of chemical weapons, and countries worked together over decades to establish a norm against their use, and it took hold. And obviously, we’ve seen violations of that norm, but there is an under – an international understanding on that. We need an international understanding on the prohibition against arbitrary detentions of countries’ citizens for political purposes.
QUESTION: Your president has said that America is back. It’s a refrain that our prime minister used when he first won as well. I wonder: How difficult is it to rebuild America’s position of leadership at multilateral organizations and around the world? How difficult is it, do you think, going to be?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I’ve been – because I couldn’t – can’t yet travel, I’ve been burning up the phone lines since I’ve been in office. And as I’ve said, I’m glad we’re on the family telephone plan here, otherwise our budget would be gone. But I’m finding almost across the board a thirst and a thanks for American engagement, because here’s the – here’s the reality I think we’re all facing, including the United States: Not a single one of the really big problems that we have to deal with on behalf of our people, things that are going to affect them or are affecting their daily lives, whether it’s changing climate, whether it’s this pandemic, whether it’s potentially the spread of a really dangerous weapon, not a single one can be dealt – can we deal with effectively with any one nation acting alone, even the United States. There is a premium on cooperation, and the United States has an important role to play in trying to bring countries together to mobilize them in collective action to deal with the challenges that our citizens are facing every single day.
I think partners around the world recognize that, just as we recognize the absolute importance to the United States of having them engaged and having them in the game. So I’m finding tremendous openness, and more than openness, even just a tremendous desire for this American re-engagement.
Now, that doesn’t mean we’re not going to have differences, we’re not going to have difficulties. But there is, I think, a sense in country after country that there is more of a premium than there has ever been on countries working together to face these challenges that are literally making a difference in the lives of our fellow Americans, fellow Canadians every single day.
QUESTION: One last question, and I am – I’m getting a wrap, so I will wrap it up. But I do know that we are expecting a report on the killing of Jamal Khashoggi and that it will link the crown prince to that killing, that he directed the killing. Can you confirm that that’s what the report, the declassified report, says and how the United States then will respond to that?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I’ll let the report speak for itself. I believe it’s going to be issued tomorrow. We have a law on the books requiring the publication of that report. We’re determined to follow the law. We’re determined to have transparency across the board and let the report speak for itself tomorrow.
QUESTION: Okay. But how does it influence American policy, I guess, in relation to Saudi Arabia?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We’ll address all of that tomorrow when the report comes out. I would say that as President Biden has said, Saudi Arabia remains an important partner for the United States on a whole host of issues, but we want to make sure that that partnership is clearly advancing our interests and reflects our values.
QUESTION: Secretary, thank you so much for making the time for Canada. Appreciate it, sir.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks. Good to be with you.
QUESTION: (Via translation) (inaudible)….the two detained Canadians are hostages, and what is the United States ready to do to try to free them?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via translation) On our side, we insist that the two Michaels be able to return home to Canada without any conditions. And more broadly, the initiative Canada is taking against countries that arbitrarily detain individuals for political reasons, we must all fight this practice and we must come to an understanding in the international community that these practices are unacceptable. We support the Canadian initiative on this matter, and clearly we support Canada with regards to the return of the two Michaels.
QUESTION: Your French is excellent. That’s very impressive, Secretary. Thank you for being so generous with that and with your time.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks. Good to be with you.