Secretary Antony J. Blinken at a Press Availability

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good afternoon.  It’s a great pleasure to be back in Europe to continue intensive coordination with allies and partners on some of the most urgent issues facing our countries, and that begins with today’s NATO meetings.  And I want to especially thank Secretary General Stoltenberg for his leadership, the deputy secretary general of NATO, and especially Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock of Germany – not only for hosting us, but for taking initiative to bring the foreign ministers together in an informal but very productive series of discussions.

The 30 NATO Allies remain fully engaged, aligned, committed to supporting a democratic, independent, and sovereign Ukraine.  The world has seen the strength and resilience of the Ukrainian people these past three months.  It’s seen the unity at the heart of NATO.  President Putin launched this brutal and unprovoked war thinking he could eliminate Ukraine as an independent country and divide NATO.  Instead, he’s only reinforced Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence as Ukraine has chased the Russian army away from Kyiv.  NATO is stronger, more capable, more unified than ever.

Every member of the Alliance wants to bring this war to an end as soon as possible, but we’re equally determined to maintain our security assistance to Ukraine, to continue our sanctions, export controls, and diplomatic pressure on Russia for as long as it’s necessary.  The United States and our allies and partners are focused on giving Ukraine as strong a hand as possible on the battlefield, and at any negotiating table, so that it can repel Russian aggression and fully defend its independence and sovereignty.

We’ve marshaled a robust transatlantic response to the humanitarian crisis caused by the war – more than 6 million Ukrainians have fled their homeland.  They’ve been welcomed in countries across Europe and across the Atlantic.  The United States has provided millions of dollars in assistance to countries taking in Ukrainian citizens to help provide essential support and services.  Our countries are also coming together to address some of the broader consequences that are flowing from Russia’s aggression, like the global food shortages and rising food prices that we’re seeing.  Ukraine supplies a great deal of the world’s corn, its wheat, its oil seeds for cooking oil.

Russia is blocking Ukraine’s ports; it’s destroying its farmland, warehouses, roads, equipment.  That’s not only striking a major blow to Ukraine’s economy, but it’s also designed to inflict pain on the rest of the world to weaken support to the Ukrainian people.  Later this week in New York, we will be convening an emergency session of the UN Security Council and also the foreign ministers to focus on the steps that we can take together to address the immediate challenges for food and to address food insecurity, as well as to look at some of the medium-term and longer-term answers to food insecurity.

We don’t know how the rest of this world – war – excuse me – will unfold.  But we know that a sovereign and independent Ukraine will endure.  And we know that in supporting Ukraine we’re also defending the principles of sovereignty and independence that are foundational to global peace and security.  Our partnership with the people of Ukraine is enduring as well.  American diplomats have returned to Ukraine after several weeks working out of Poland.  We’re reopening our Embassy in Kyiv – we’re taking all necessary precautions, but that work is underway – and we will resume operations very soon.

President Biden recently nominated Bridget Brink to serve as our next ambassador to Ukraine. She’s an outstanding veteran diplomat.  We hope the Senate will move quickly to confirm her, just as we hope Congress will move quickly to pass the $40 billion supplemental funding bill to ensure that our ability to provide assistance to Ukraine is not interrupted.

This morning I had an opportunity to meet with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kuleba, part of what is an ongoing conversation with him on the phone, in person, whenever we have an opportunity to actually see each other.  And I conveyed to him again our commitment – unwavering commitment – to Ukraine.  NATO’s unified response, which we affirmed once more today, will continue.  Allies were joined here in Berlin by the foreign ministers from Sweden and Finland.  Both countries are close and valued defense partners of NATO and the United States.  And the United States would strongly support a NATO application by either Sweden or Finland should they choose to formally apply to the Alliance.  We’ll respect whatever decision they make.  And we’ve long supported NATO’s Open Door policy and the right of all countries to decide their own futures, their policies, their security arrangements.

We also spent time here in Berlin laying the groundwork for next month’s summit in Madrid. NATO is going to release its new Strategic Concept laying out how the Alliance will sustain and strengthen transatlantic security in the face of President Putin’s aggression as well as other emerging threats.  And we’ll look ahead to our continuing efforts to fortify our force posture on NATO’s eastern flank and to strengthen our defense partnerships beyond the region – for example, with Australia, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, all of which will be represented in Madrid.

Finally, from here we’ll be traveling to Paris to attend the second ministerial meeting of the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council.  President Biden’s initiative to align some of the world’s largest economies on the most important trade and tech issues of the day is bearing very significant fruit and delivering real results.  Together we’re working to shape norms and set standards on emerging technology, build more diverse and resilient supply chains, coordinate our approaches to export controls and investment screening mechanisms, acting together to stop unfair trade practices that harm our workers and our companies.  The TTC has already proven highly useful for facilitating U.S.-EU cooperation – for example, on the swift imposition of export controls on Russia after it invaded Ukraine.  I’m very much looking forward to our meetings in Paris and continuing to deepen what is an abiding partnership between the United States and the European Union.

And with that, happy to take some questions.

MS ALLEN:  First question will be from Ellie Kaufman of CNN.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, did you have a chance to speak with your Turkish counterpart today?  Will they allow Sweden and Finland to move forward with the process of applying to NATO membership?  And if not, did they express what their concerns are to you?

And on another issue, is the U.S. going to send any U.S. personnel to the West Bank to investigate the killing Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, an American citizen?  Also, you spoke with a member of her family.  Who did you speak with and what was conveyed to you?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Second part first:  We support an investigation of Shireen’s killing.  I had an opportunity to speak to – directly to her brother, Anton.  I believe other members of the family were on the phone and listening in.  I had a chance to express our deep condolences for her loss, our deep respect for the work that she did as a journalist for many years – widely respected around the world – as well as the need to have an immediate and credible investigation into the circumstances surrounding her death.

Here in Berlin, yes, I did have a chance to talk to my Turkish counterpart, the foreign minister.  When it comes to Sweden and Finland and their potential accession to NATO, this is a process.  And NATO is a place for dialogue; it’s a place for discussion.  It’s a place for talking about any differences that that we may have.  I don’t want to characterize the specific conversation that we had either with the foreign minister or within the NATO sessions themselves, but I can say this much:  I heard, almost across the board, very strong support for Finland and NATO[i] joining the Alliance if that’s what they choose to do.  And I’m very confident that we will reach consensus on that.

MS ALLEN:  The next question is from Annmarie Hordern of Bloomberg.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  First question:  We heard from the Turkish foreign minister about what they would like in terms of the prospect of the prospective NATO members of Finland and Sweden.  And part of that is about – they say that those members should not impose export bans.  So is Turkey asking the United States and its allies to lift export bans specifically on weapons, and is that something the U.S. is even willing to discuss?  And given the fact that this has now become a negotiation, aren’t you worried that the Open Door policy is potentially now going to become a negotiation tactic for any future prospective members?

And you were also here meeting with your European counterparts.  You know the EU is at the moment trying to get a European oil ban on Russia.  Every single day Putin is funding his war with tens of millions of dollars being made by exports of fossil fuels.  Are you worried that if Europe is unable to come to this agreement, it is going to damage this alliance and also just further this war?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  I’ll just repeat what I said about Turkey.  I had an opportunity to talk to the foreign minister.  We had a conversation about this in the context of the NATO meetings, which I’m not going to characterize beyond saying that there is very strong consensus for bringing Finland and Sweden into the Alliance if they choose to formally apply.  And as to the differences between Turkey, Finland, and Sweden that have been talked about, there’s an ongoing conversation, and the bottom line is this:  When it comes to the membership process, I am very confident that we will reach consensus.

Second, with regard to energy, that was actually not a focus of our conversations today.  But we very much support the efforts that Europe, the European Union is making to wean itself off of Russian energy, whether that’s oil or ultimately gas.  This is a reliance that’s been built up over many, many decades.  It’s not going to end overnight, but Europe is clearly on track to move decisively in that direction.  And we very much support the European Union’s efforts to put in place an embargo on the importation of Russian oil.  That process is for the European Union to pursue.

As this is happening, the United States has taken a number of steps to help.  And so for example, to the extent that there are any gaps that result in the energy that Europe is getting, we have already redirected significant supplies of liquefied natural gas to Europe.  The President’s committed to continuing to do that throughout the rest of the year – at the same time to make sure that there is bountiful energy on world markets and also to try to ensure that price hikes that have resulted from Putin’s aggression in Ukraine are evaded and kept under control.  The – we initiated a historic release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve – a million barrels a day over six months.  That was matched by a number of countries through the International Energy Agency. And of course, we established a task force with the European Union to work on these very issues.  That task force is actively engaged as we speak.

QUESTION:  But can I just – just – the question really is about the fact that Hungary is putting a lot of hurdles in the way to get to this point.  And when you and your allies speak, it’s always about this unity, but clearly there’s not.  So if they’re not able to get to an end agreement on oil, doesn’t that just show that there is a lot of divisions in this so-called unity the United States has with the Europeans?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So it’s interesting.  With the – I guess the benefit of just a little distance from events, this has been going on for many months now – Russia’s mounting aggression, then its aggression, and the response from countries around the world, but principally the United States and Europe, the most immediately concerned with that aggression in Ukraine.  And throughout this process, at virtually every turn, we’ve said that we were going to do X, Y, and Z.  Skepticism was expressed from various quarters about our ability to do that, and yet, we’ve done it.  We said from the get-go that if Russia pursued its aggression against Ukraine, there’d be massive consequences for Russia, including unprecedented sanctions.  A number of people said: oh, that’s not going to happen.  Well, it did.  There have been massive consequences and we have unleashed truly unprecedented sanctions.

Many said that certain countries, certain partners wouldn’t go along with various sections, and yet, they did.  At other stages, people said that the European Union or European countries would not, for example, provide lethal defensive assistance to Ukraine, and yet, they have.  At virtually every stage of the process of implementing – deciding on and implementing new sanctions, there have been those who said: oh, they’re not going to do it; it’s too hard; there’s not consensus.  And yet, they did, and they have.

So I think the lesson from the last six months is that we have seen unprecedented unity.  We have seen unprecedented action.  And I’m very convinced that that’s going to continue as long as Russia’s aggression does.

MS ALLEN:  Last question comes from Thomas – I want to make sure I get his name right.

QUESTION:  Thanks – yeah, it’s Thomas Gutschker with Frankfurter —

MS ALLEN:  Thomas Gutschker from FAZ.  Thanks so much.

QUESTION:  That’s correct.  Thanks for taking my question.  It’s about the Strategic Concept and the discussion you are having on that.  Some allies are now saying they see the future of relations with Russia in the framework of containment.  Do you think that is the right term, the right concept to frame future relations with Russia?  And somewhat related to this, do you see any more reason to keep up the NATO-Russia Founding Act?  I know so far NATO has said Russia has walked away.  NATO has also said it’s not restricting anything that’s going on right now.  But of course, the next step could be to simply say: we also walk away from it; we no longer consider this to be a viable document.  What’s the U.S. position on that?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  A lot of these issues will be fully discussed and fully elaborated on at the NATO Summit in Madrid in June.  And much of the work that we were doing today was in furtherance of that Summit and the work the leaders will bring to conclusion, including the Strategic Concept.  So I don’t want to get into any detail about that; everything is being drafted as we speak.  There were very positive and substantial inputs to that drafting process over the last couple of days, and I’d say we had a very good discussion about it.

At the heart of NATO and at the heart of the Strategic Concept is the notion of defense and deterrence.  That’s what bring – brought the Alliance together in the first place, and that includes with regard to deterring and defending against any aggression from Russia.  I can say with confidence that that will be fully reflected in the Strategic Concept.  Beyond that, let me leave it to the Summit, to the leaders to describe in more detail how the Alliance sees its relationship with Russia going forward.  That will be something that will be, I think, fully aired at the Summit in Madrid.  Thank you.

Thank you.  Thanks, everyone.