Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
New Delhi, India
The Leela Palace Hotel
QUESTION: All right. Joining us now, a very special guest, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Thank you very much for speaking with us here on CNN-News18. You’ve just come off a meeting with your counterpart, Foreign Minister Jaishankar. A large part of your conversation was around the Quad. Can you tell us what is the U.S.’s vision of the Quad? And you also said right after the meeting that you don’t see it as a military alliance. Can you elaborate on that?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s not a military alliance. What it is, is a group of likeminded democracies – India, the United States, Japan, Australia – coming together to work cooperatively on issues and matters that are going to affect the lives of citizens in all of our countries, and indeed, in the Indo-Pacific as a whole. And beneath that is the conviction that the Indo-Pacific needs to remain a free and open region, but we’re working together on COVID-19 and making sure that we can provide more vaccines to the world, we’re working together on addressing climate change, and on issues as varied as maritime security to infrastructure projects.
So most of the challenges that we face in the world that affect the lives of our citizens can’t be resolved by any one country acting alone. And so it’s a natural and normal thing for likeminded democracies to come together and work on these things together.
QUESTION: So how do you respond to the Chinese criticism that the only purpose of the Quad is to target China or to contain China?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I don’t think that being able to finance, produce, and distribute tens of millions, hundreds of millions of more vaccines is targeting China except in the most positive way. It’s trying to help the region and help the world get over COVID-19. And virtually all of the work that we’re doing together is to, in one way or another, improve the lives of people in the region and make sure that it remains free and open.
QUESTION: When you say it’s not a military alliance, it’s not traditionally like your NATO Allies or your other treaty allies whereby if, God forbid, one of the four were to be physically or in some form attacked, it doesn’t mean that the others are to rush in and protect it?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That’s correct.
QUESTION: Okay. Let’s talk about vaccines. You did say that a large part of your conversation with your counterpart was on vaccines. The two American vaccines, Moderna and Pfizer, we’re given to understand, in principle, approvals have been given. What is your best understanding of why we haven’t gotten those jabs into Indian arms yet?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first, it’s important for me to say that when we were suffering the most from COVID early on, India came to our assistance, and that’s something that we’ll never forget, providing ventilators when our hospitals were at risk of being overwhelmed. And in turn, when India had its second wave, we’ve tried to step up and be of assistance as friends do for one another. And I’m very proud of the fact that we’ve contributed over the course of COVID about a quarter of a billion dollars in assistance to India. Our private sector, individuals, have come together and provided hundreds of millions of dollars as well. And we’re seeing, I think, some results from that.
We have also made available several, millions of vaccines, and I think – my best understanding now, as, of course, with any country, there’s an approval process and a regulatory process and a legal process required for receiving vaccines, and that’s where things stand.
QUESTION: Let’s talk about Afghanistan. Again, a large part of your conversation was about Afghanistan. We’re approaching the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and the war in Afghanistan. The decision by President Biden to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and subsequently reports of the Taliban taking over large tracts of territory, do you think that decision was rushed?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, as you said, we’re approaching the 20th anniversary of 9/11, 20 years. And we have to remember why we went to Afghanistan in the first place. It’s because we were attacked on 9/11, and we went to deal with those who attacked us, and thankfully, in solidarity with many other countries. And we went to make sure that we would bring to justice those who attacked us and do our best to make sure that it couldn’t happen again, and we’ve largely achieved what we set out to achieve. Usama bin Ladin was brought to justice 10 years ago and al-Qaida, as a threat from Afghanistan to the United States or to anyone else, has been vastly diminished, if not entirely eliminated. So that purpose has largely been achieved.
QUESTION: But do you think —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: But at the same time, we spent 20 years, a trillion dollars, 4,500 Americans lost their lives. Afghanistan has to be in a position to decide its own future, decide it for itself, but with the support of the international community. Even as we’re withdrawing our forces, we’re remaining very much engaged in Afghanistan: supporting the government, economic assistance, development assistance, assistance for the security forces, and diplomacy to try to bring the parties together for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
QUESTION: There were pictures today, there was a high-level meeting in Beijing where Taliban representatives had met with the foreign minister there, and I’m wondering what you would want to say about China getting involved in this. Because the prevailing notion here seems to be as the U.S. withdraws, China steps into that vacuum.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I think many countries in – immediately neighboring Afghanistan and in the broader region, including China, have interests in Afghanistan. And as it happens, those interests largely align. No one, whether it’s the United States, China, India, Pakistan, Iran, Russia, Central Asian countries – no one has an interest in Afghanistan falling into an enduring civil war. No one has an interest in a military takeover of the country by the Taliban, the restoration of an Islamic emirate. Everyone has an interest in a peaceful resolution of the conflict and some kind of government that emerges that’s truly representative and inclusive. And so if China is acting on those interests, if other countries are acting on those interests, that’s a positive thing.
QUESTION: You had mentioned in the press briefing as well that one of the areas that you talked about today was about strengthening democratic institutions. Can you point to particular areas of concern that you have vis-a-vis India and India’s democratic institutions – why did that come up in conversation?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Oh, I think we’re – we both have challenges in our own democracy, so we had an interesting exchange on that. One of the challenges, for example, is in the – in cyberspace, in the space of the internet, and the distinction between, for example, regulating misinformation in cyberspace versus political speech. And sometimes it’s a thin line that we have to look at carefully. We’re facing these challenges ourselves.
So it was an important opportunity to compare notes about that, about a number of other issues, but I think we – again, we come from the same place, societies that are animated by democratic ideals and very vibrant democracies, but that each have their challenges, and it’s good for us to be able to speak about these things openly and directly.
QUESTION: All right. Finally, you’ll be meeting Prime Minister Modi. Will you be inviting him to visit the White House? Do we know if President Biden will be coming to India soon?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I’m sure that there will be ample opportunity, and I know that President Biden would welcome it for the prime minister to visit, and equally for President Biden to come here. We haven’t fixed any dates yet, but I’m sure we’ll see that in the future.
QUESTION: All right. Secretary Blinken, thank you so much for speaking with us here at CNN-News18.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks for having me, appreciate it.