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Secretary Antony J. Blinken At a Press Availability

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good morning.  Good morning.

QUESTION:  Good morning.

QUESTION:  Well, barely morning.  (Laughter.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Speak for yourself, Matt.

Very good to see everyone here.  Actually, I kind of hoped more of you might be on vacation by now but – (laughter) – I see we have a pretty full house.  And I think to some extent that reflects the fact that this has been an incredibly busy period, and I wanted to take a moment to speak about a few of the things that we’re intensely focused on in this moment.

Let me start with this.  On Friday, President Biden will host Japanese Prime Minister Kishida and South Korean President Yoon at Camp David to mark what we believe is a new era in trilateral cooperation among our countries.  I just spoke this morning with my counterparts from Japan and Korea – Foreign Minister Hayashi, Foreign Minister Park – to continue to prepare for the summit meeting on Friday.  And I want to take this moment before saying anything else to extend the deepest condolences of the United States to President Yoon on the passing of his father.  He was by all accounts a remarkable scholar and – among other things – a strong proponent of relations between the ROK and Japan.

This summit comes at a moment when our region and the world are being tested by geopolitical competition, by climate crisis, by Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, by nuclear provocations.  Our heightened engagement is part of our broader efforts to revitalize, to strengthen, to knit together our alliances and partnerships – and in this case, to help realize a shared vision of an Indo-Pacific that is free and open, prosperous, secure, resilient, and connected.  And what we mean by that is a region where countries are free to chart their own path and to find their own partners, where problems are dealt with openly, where rules are reached transparently and applied fairly, and where goods, ideas, and people can flow lawfully and freely.

Japan and South Korea are core allies – not just in the region, but around the world.  Strengthening our trilateral cooperation is critical to delivering for our people, for the region, and for the world.  It’s a force multiplier for good.  It helps us promote peace and stability and furthers our commitment to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.  It advances our shared values and helps uphold principles of the UN Charter like sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity.  It allows us to even more expand opportunity and prosperity.

That’s why President Biden is hosting this historic meeting – the first time foreign leaders have visited Camp David since 2015; the first standalone summit ever between our three countries.  Together, the leaders will have an opportunity to discuss and to strengthen practical cooperation on a variety of shared priorities, from physical security to economic security, from humanitarian assistance to development finance, from global health to critical and emerging technologies.

This is something that I’ve been working on closely for many, many years, building collaboration among the United States, Japan, and South Korea.  And I take this back to my time as deputy secretary.  Then, over two years – 2015, 2016 – I held six trilateral meetings, one of which included then Vice President Biden.  As Secretary, I’ve convened six more trilaterals to deepen and strengthen our cooperation.  Former Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, of course, is — also engaged intensely in working trilaterally with Japan and Korea.  Over the years, we have moved from addressing difficult and sensitive issues of history to an increasingly ambitious and affirmative agenda.  And as we look to the future, this growing partnership will continue to enable us to do more for the security and the prosperity of all.

Let me also say a word about Ukraine.  Next week, we will mark a year and a half since Russia’s full-scale invasion – a year and a half of bombing Ukrainian schools and hospitals, weaponizing food and fuel, killing and wounding thousands of Ukrainians, even abducting Ukrainian children.  For just as long, the people of Ukraine have demonstrated remarkable courage and resilience.  The United States, dozens of other countries will continue to stand with them until Ukraine secures a just and durable peace.

Last week, President Biden requested $24.1 billion from Congress to deliver on that promise and continue to support Ukraine’s security, its economic, its humanitarian needs – as well as to help other countries experiencing the effects of Russia’s war.  Our effort and resources, and those of allies and partners around the world, have enabled Ukrainians to fight for their lives, for their freedom, for their future.  They’ve helped uphold the basic principles – sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence – that are vital to maintaining international peace and security.  They’ve ensured that Russia’s invasion remains a strategic failure.

I urge Congress to pass this legislation funding – the supplemental funding, excuse me – right away.  And while they’re at it, I once again strongly encourage the Senate to swiftly approve the dozens of ambassadors and other State Department officials who continue to await confirmation.

At the same time, our department is working with Ukrainian partners on long-term security commitments to help Ukraine deter and, if necessary, defend against future Russian aggression well into the future.  Ukraine should be clear about the enduring nature of our support and that of many other countries that will provide similar commitments to Ukraine.  President Putin should be clear about the futility of pursuing his aggression.

We also continue to condemn Russia’s termination of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which is harming developing countries most of all, and appreciate efforts by countries like Romania and Moldova as we work to get Ukrainian grain to those who most urgently need it.

Finally, last week we confirmed that Iranian authorities released five U.S. citizens from prison to house arrest – Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz, Emad Shargi, and two Americans who wish to remain private.  Most have been in prison since before this administration took office.  One has been held for nearly eight years.  None should have been detained in the first place.

Yesterday I spoke with several of these detainees’ loved ones.  Their resilience, their courage, never ceases to inspire.  My message to them is the same thing that you’ll hear from me today.  Moving our people to house arrest is a positive step, but they are not yet home.  We’re closely monitoring their well-being, we’re especially grateful to our Swiss partners for their on-the-ground support, and we will not rest until our fellow citizens are back in the United States reunited with their families.

Nothing about our overall approach to Iran has changed.  We continue to pursue a strategy of deterrence, of pressure, and diplomacy.  We remain committed to ensuring that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon.  We continue to hold the regime accountable for its human rights abuses, destabilizing actions in the region, funding of terrorism, provision of drones to Russia, for its use in the war against Ukraine, among many other offenses.

We’ve been clear that Iran must de-escalate to create space for future diplomacy.  This development – that is, the move of our detainees out of prison and to home detention – is not linked to any other aspect of our Iran policy.  It is simply about our people.

You’ve heard me say this before:  I have no higher priority than looking out for the security and well-being of Americans around the world.  Our department will continue to do everything we can to gain the release of those who are unjustly held around the world.

And with that, happy to take some questions.  Vedant.

MR PATEL:  Matt, do you want to start us off?

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Good morning.  It’s still morning for another 10 minutes, Mr. Secretary.  Good morning.  I wanted to ask you about the summit and your call this morning.  And I realize that you don’t – no one likes to rank threats or issues in terms of importance.  But a lot of it, of what you just talked about, is related to North Korea, but China is also an issue.  So if you – how much of the summit do you think is going to be focused on China, and how much on North Korea, at least in terms of the security elements?

And then on a completely – well —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  No, go ahead.  Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION:  — not exactly a related note, have you seen Oppenheimer yet?  And if you have, what do you think?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I’m glad that these are two very distinct questions.  To take your second question first, no, I have not yet seen Oppenheimer; I’m trying to find the, what, three-and-a-half hours necessary —


SECRETARY BLINKEN:  — to watch it.  But that is —

QUESTION:  Exactly.  And also expensive if you do it at the IMAX, as I —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, it is in the cards or we’ll wait until it starts streaming.  But I am looking forward to that.

What’s evolved over the last now eight years or so, going back to 2015, 2016 when I started to work on this as deputy secretary, is a trilateral grouping, a cooperation among our three countries that’s really evolved from, as I said, first to some extent a focus on helping and supporting Japan and Korea deal with some historical legacy issues to initially an intense focus on North Korea, to a much more expansive agenda that of course continues to focus on North Korea given the endless provocative actions it’s taken, but also much more expansively to advance what is a shared vision, as I’ve described it, for a free and open, resilient, secure, connected Indo-Pacific.

So I think much of what you will see come out of this summit are concrete initiatives that address the broad expanse of that affirmative agenda, including security questions, including economic security questions, but also including things like coordination on development aid, on humanitarian assistance, on shaping the use of emerging technologies, on greater people-to-people exchanges.

So I don’t think there’s any one thing that will dominate.  But of course at the heart of our respective bilateral alliances and at the heart of the work that we’re doing together as three countries is security.  And again, I don’t want to get ahead of what will happen on Friday, but I think you’ll see some very concrete measures that we’re taking to enhance our capacity to provide for our security as three countries and also more broadly security in the Indo-Pacific region.

MR PATEL:  Humeyra, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Vedant.  Hello, Mr. Secretary.


QUESTION:  I guess I should also ask if you would get three and a half hours whether you would go for Barbie or Oppenheimer, but I’m not going to.  So on the trilateral –

QUESTION:  You should make him answer that.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  Well, I’m sure someone will follow that up, right?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I’m happy to address that Humeyra, but go ahead, please.

QUESTION:  On the trilateral summit, I’m wondering whether the United States is concerned about Japan’s plans to discharge treated radioactive water from the Fukushima power plant.  Do you think these plans could undermine South Korean President Yoon and damage the rapprochement between Tokyo and Seoul?

And I have a couple of questions on Iran.  The Wall Street Journal on Friday reported that Iran has slowed the pace at which it is accumulating near-weapons-grade enriched uranium.  Is this correct?  Based on the information you have, have they really slowed?  Was their decision to do so in any way related to or part of the U.S.-Iran agreement that was announced last week?

And last but not least, why isn’t the U.S. permanent resident Shahab Dalili, who’s been detained in Iran since 2016, part of this deal?  And why hasn’t he been designated as wrongfully detained?  His son is outside the State Department today and is on a hunger strike to protest, asking the same questions.  Thank you, sir.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  First, I also look forward to seeing Barbie, but no set plans to do that – again, have to find the time.  Maybe we can do a double feature in the briefing room – (laughter) – for those who’ve seen neither movie.

Second, with regard to the release of water from Fukushima, we are satisfied with Japan’s plans, which are safe and in accordance with international standards, including, critically, the IAEA nuclear safety standards.  Japan has coordinated closely, proactively with the IAEA on its plans, and they’ve conducted a science-based and transparent process, one that we’re satisfied with.

With regard to the questions about Iran, I can’t confirm the reports that you’ve cited.  What I can say is, of course, we would welcome any steps that Iran takes to actually de-escalate the growing nuclear threat that it has posed since the United States got out of the Iran nuclear agreement.  And, of course, we’ve been very focused on that, and President Biden’s determination to assure that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon remains rock solid.

There is no agreement between us on nuclear matters.  The agreement that we’re pursuing, to bring home those who are wrongfully detained in Iran, is an entirely separate matter that we want to bring to a successful conclusion, and that’s what I’m focused on.

I think it’s important to note that, even as we have been pursuing this effort to bring our Americans home, we have continued to pursue very vigorously our efforts to counter a whole variety of actions being taken by Iran that we profoundly object to and so do many other countries around the world.  You see that in the continued implementation of sanctions against Iran.  You see that in the steps that we’ve taken just recently to shore up our military presence in the Gulf to account for the Iranians trying to interfere with shipping.  You see that in a whole variety of areas, where we are pushing back against Iran’s abuses of human rights, its destabilizing actions, its ballistic missiles, its funding of terrorism, the provision of drones to Russia for use in Ukraine.  So there is a long list of things that Iran is engaged in and a long list of actions that we continue to take to oppose what Iran is doing.

Finally, the five Americans who have been moved from prison to home detention and who we expect to come home in the weeks ahead are Americans who’ve been found to be designated as wrongfully detained.  We continue to look and will always continue to look at the situations, conditions of other Americans around the world who may be detained –

QUESTION:  Can you say a little bit more on this case?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I can’t.  For reasons of privacy, I can’t talk about any individual cases.  I can simply say that, as a matter policy, we’re constantly reviewing whether any particular individual – whether an American citizen or a legal permanent resident – who is incarcerated in another country is wrongfully detained.  And that, of course, triggers a whole series of actions and steps that we take to try to secure their release.

MR PATEL:  Olivia, in the back.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary, very much.  Two separate questions for you.  One is:  Do you expect this weekend’s level of engagement to continue on an annual basis with South Korea and Japan?

And secondly, today marks two years since the Taliban took over Kabul as the U.S. withdrew its forces there.  They’ve declared it a national holiday; they’ve recognized it as a great victory.  As you’re no doubt aware, human rights and especially women’s rights – to say that they have been trampled there is an understatement.  Many people there have been – said that it’s worse than they feared.  So hearing that, seeing that, two years in after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, how do you believe the U.S. has done by the Afghan people and by the Afghan partners who remain stranded there?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  So on the trilateral cooperation, I think what you can expect to see coming out of this summit is a collaboration on a trilateral basis that is further institutionalized in a variety of ways, to include regular meetings at a variety of levels, senior levels in our governments.  So that is something that I fully expect to see come out of Friday.

With regard to Afghanistan, you’ve heard me say this before – I’ll repeat it now – the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan was an incredibly difficult one, but also the right one.  We ended America’s longest war.  For the first time in 20 years, we don’t have another generation of young Americans going to fight and die in Afghanistan.  And in turn, that has enabled us to even more effectively meet the many challenges of our time, from great power competition to the many transnational issues that we’re dealing with that are affecting the lives of our people and people around the world.

But to do so, even as we continue to work on supporting the Afghan people, we have some enduring commitments when it comes to Afghanistan.  Those haven’t changed.  We want to make sure that we continue to make good on any American citizens who happen to be in Afghanistan and who wish to depart.  And as you know, we brought back virtually all of the American citizens who said they wanted to depart in the course of the withdrawal, and that effort continued well after and continues to this day, and I believe some 900 or so additional American citizens who’ve told us at one point or another that they wanted to leave we’ve made sure could get home.

At the same time, we are continuing to make very steady progress when it comes to making good on our responsibilities and commitments to our partners in Afghanistan, who were with us for many, many years.  Through August 1, 2023 – between that period and when we left, so August 31st to August 1st of this year – nearly 34,000 Special Immigrant Visas to principal applicants and their family members have been issued and have been – and these people have been able to leave Afghanistan and come to the United States.

We remain the leading donor of humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people, some $1.9 billion since August of 2021.  And we continue to work to hold the Taliban accountable for the many commitments that it’s made and not fulfilled, particularly when it comes to the rights of women and girls.  We’ve been very clear with the Taliban, and dozens of countries around the world have been very clear, that the path to any more normal relationship between the Taliban and other countries will be blocked unless and until the rights of women and girls, among other things, are actually supported.

So this is an area of ongoing focus, of ongoing commitment.  And that won’t cease.

MR PATEL:  Vivian, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thanks so much, Mr. Secretary.  I wanted to ask two questions, one on Iran, just sort of following up on Humeyra.  With regard to the transfer of funds, which the U.S. has said you’re working out the details, what are – what kind of enforcement mechanisms are we going to see so we know that the Iranian Government is not necessarily abusing those funds?  And then that would somehow be connected to the deal that the U.S. had partially brokered to get their funds released.

And very quickly on Niger, President Bazoum remains in detention, and the coup leaders are holding steady.  The U.S. has maintained that it’s holding out hope for some sort of diplomatic resolution, but that so far hasn’t beared fruit.  And so very bluntly, would the U.S. support any type of military action that ECOWAS has threatened?  Or do you see any alternative to resolve this situation?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks.   So first, on Iran – and it’s important to be very, very clear about this – the funds in question are not American funds; they’re not American taxpayer money.  They are Iranian funds that have been in South Korean banks for a number of years.  From day one of our sanctions, there has always been an exemption for the use of funds for humanitarian purposes.  The previous administration allowed several countries to continue purchasing oil from Iran and to place those funds in special accounts, and they allowed those accounts to be spent down for – for purposes with actually limited oversight.  And that’s – the funds in the – in South Korea, that’s how they wound up there in the first place.

The dollars that are being made available – that is, Iranian funds that are being made now available to Iran – this is a way of actually facilitating their use strictly for humanitarian purposes and in a strictly controlled way – again, purposes that have been exempt from day one from our sanctions.  Iran will not have direct access to these funds.  There will be significant oversight and visibility from the United States.

With regard to Niger, first, we reiterate the imperative of releasing President Bazoum, his family, from detention.  And we reiterate the imperative of returning to the constitutional order in Niger.  We’re in strong support of what ECOWAS is doing to achieve exactly those results.  You heard from ECOWAS just a couple of days ago about how they see the path forward.  And we remain very focused on diplomacy for achieving the results that we want, which is the return to the constitutional order.  And I believe that there continues to be space for diplomacy in achieving that result.

The pressure that’s been exerted by many countries, including through ECOWAS, on the military leaders responsible for disrupting the constitutional order in Niger is mounting.  I think they have to take that into account, as well as the fact that their actions have isolated them from the region and from the world, as well as the fact that there is a diplomatic path forward under the constitution that would restore a constitutional order.  That’s what we’re focused on.

As to other steps, you’ve heard what ECOWAS has said about preparing contingencies.  We support what ECOWAS is doing.  I don’t want to get ahead of where we are now or get into any hypotheticals about what may happen in the future.  This is a moment to focus intensely on the diplomacy, to end this crisis, to restore the constitutional order.  That’s clearly in the best interests of everyone, including those responsible for disrupting the constitutional order.

MR PATEL:  Thank you so much, everybody.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, everyone.  I hope you all get a break.

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