The following is the full transcript of an interview with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday, September 2, 2023. Excerpts:
QUESTION: Secretary, thank you so much for speaking with me today. It’s a pleasure to be back in the State Department, it’s a pleasure to be seeing you in person, and to thank you first of all for all your help and your support when I was going through something that was difficult, and so it’s a pleasure to be here with you today.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Ben, I can’t tell you how happy I am to see you, to have you here back at the State Department. You are part of our family. And it’s just incredibly gratifying to see – not only to see you back, but just to see your strength and everything that you’ve been through, your family’s been through, but to do it with such strength, such courage, and now to be back, I am very, very happy to see that.
Now, as I said to you, I may feel differently in about five minutes when we finish this interview – (laughter) – but it’s wonderful.
QUESTION: Thank you. I was a journalist who was injured by Russian artillery, and of course there’s another journalist who has also been – is being held by the Russians at the moment. I wondered if you could explain to us at the moment what the level of dialogue is between the U.S. and Russia about Evan and also about Paul Whelan as well. What is the level of dialogue at the moment, and is there any discussion of prisoner swaps?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, dialogue is irregular. We have been in contact. We remain in contact through our embassy. We have a channel that President Biden and President Putin established some time ago to deal with the arbitrary detention of our citizens. So we’ll continue to pursue that, but the fact is that Evan is unjustly being detained. He needs to be released immediately.
QUESTION: We have seen a number of Americans who have been held by the Russians, and yet it seems to me that they aren’t really facing any repercussions for doing so. I know there are some sanctions in place because of it, but there isn’t any message going to the Russians that if they take Americans, there will be severe consequences. What would you say to that? How do we do more to stop Russia – the Russians taking Americans?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: You know we’ve taken a number of measures, including sanctions, across the years and across cases. But I think what you’re seeing, again, is maybe the biggest sanction of all is to further Russia’s isolation, an isolation that began when they invaded Ukraine.
QUESTION: That hasn’t stopped – but that hasn’t stopped them from taking Americans.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, at some point, along with the isolation, along with measures that we can take, that others can take – and by the way, we’re working with other countries to build an even stronger coalition to make sure that there are strong consequences for any country that engages in these practices.
QUESTION: Moving on to Ukraine now, to something that I think a lot about at the moment, but it does appear as if there is a bit of a stalemate at the moment on the battlefield. I wonder what that says, the fact there’s a stalemate – after all the U.S. support, all the international support, that that’s where we are right now.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, a few things on this. First, as you know better than anyone because you’re deeply engaged in it – in Ukraine, Russia has already failed in the sense that what they were trying to accomplish initially was to erase Ukraine from the map, to subsume it into Russia, to eliminate its existence as an independent state. That’s failed and it’s not going to succeed.
We know that the Ukrainians are contemplating a counteroffensive in the weeks to come. Let’s see what happens with that. And ultimately, its success on the battlefield is the best way and probably the quickest way to actually get to a negotiation that produces a just and durable peace.
QUESTION: It’s very interesting to see President Xi talking to Zelenskyy recently, and there are Chinese diplomats going to Ukraine at the moment. Are you open to China becoming the peacemaker here?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I think we’re open to any country engaging in responsible efforts to try to advance peace, and that begins with a couple of things. It begins, first of all, with the recognition that what – that what’s fundamentally at stake is the territorial integrity and sovereignty and independence of Ukraine, so any peace agreement has to have that as its foundation.
It’s also very important that anyone who’s engaging in efforts to advance peace be talking directly to the Ukrainians. They’re the aggrieved party.
QUESTION: But when we look at China in general, we look at the spy balloons over the U.S., we look at the incredible amounts of hacking that are going on at the moment, the covert Chinese police stations in the U.S., the supply chain issues that they’re behind, and yet they continue to do it. The problem seems to be getting worse. How can you push back? Why won’t you contain China more than you are at the moment?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Oh, I think what we’ve seen over the last couple of years is the United States putting itself in a much stronger position to deal with the competition that we have with China that we fully acknowledge. First, we’ve made historic investments in ourselves to make sure that we can compete effectively – everything from the investments we’re making in infrastructure to semiconductors to climate technology. That means —
QUESTION: That’s not holding China back. I mean, it’s not stopping China.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: The issue is I think less holding China back and more making sure that we’re able to run faster. And that involves investments in ourselves. It also involves extraordinary convergence with allies and partners around the world in Europe and Asia and other places about how to deal with some of the challenges that China poses.
QUESTION: Many countries, though, who would once have been firmly in the U.S. – on the U.S. side are now in the middle. You look at Saudi Arabia, UAE, South Africa perhaps, India not really coming on the side of the U.S. That is worrying. That says a lot about that they believe this is more equal that it used to be.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: First, as I said, what we’re seeing with core partners in Europe and in Asia is much greater convergence than I’ve ever seen.
QUESTION: Do you think that the world is now a safer place under the Biden administration than it was under the Trump administration?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: In my judgment, what I can say is this. I think our standing – the standing of the United States around the world – in the last few years is much stronger than it was. And you can see this in survey after survey, and I can feel it in the work that I’m doing every single day.
QUESTION: I want to ask you about the letter that was written concerning Hunter Biden’s laptop that said it was Russian disinformation. Can you explain what your role was in that and if you incentivized it?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first, one of the great benefits of this job is that I don’t do politics and don’t engage in it. But with regard to that letter, I didn’t – it wasn’t my idea, didn’t ask for it, didn’t solicit it. And I think the testimony that the former deputy director of the CIA, Mike Morell, put forward confirms that.
QUESTION: Do you accept that the laptop is not Russian disinformation?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Again, from my perspective, I’m not engaging in politics. I’ve got a lot on my agenda, some things that we’ve just talked about – trying to help the Ukrainians in the Russian aggression against them, engaging with allies and partners around the world in dealing with some of the challenges posed by China. We have a situation now in Sudan that’s fully occupied my time, so that’s where my focus is.
QUESTION: When we look to Sudan. We saw some – great news – we saw 500 Americans being bused out in the last few days. Are there more plans for other buses in the near future?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yes. As long as there are American citizens in Sudan who are seeking our assistance in leaving Sudan, we’ll continue to do this. We’ve been working very hard to make sure that our embassy personnel was able to get to safety and that American citizens with whom we were in contact and asked for assistance were also able to get to safety.