Wed. Jul 24th, 2024
Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg at a Joint Press Availability

MODERATOR:  Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the press conference on the occasion of the visit of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Vienna.  Following the remarks of the two ministers, there will be time for some questions.  And I would like Mr. Schallenberg to give his remarks.

FOREIGN MINISTER SCHALLENBERG:  To the Secretary of State, dear Tony, ladies and gentlemen, a very warm welcome to you.  It’s a real treat and pleasure to have you here in Vienna, and I believe your presence is not only a visible sign of our strong partnership – only a year ago, I had the pleasure to visit you in Washington, D.C. – it is also – very much appreciate sign of your support for the work of the UN, or the United Nations, and in particular, the UNODC, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.  And I can tell you that Austria is a very committed member of your Global Coalition to Address Synthetic Drug Threats.  I believe the fight against the scourge of organized crime and drug trafficking needs our full attention and more than less international cooperation.  And you can be assured that we will stand together with our partners in this fight.

Together with the chancellor, Karl Nehammer, we had a very good exchange on a number of geopolitical hotspots which are on top of our, again, agenda on both sides of the Atlantic – either Russian continued war of aggression against Ukraine, the dire situation in the Middle East, or the stabilization of the Western Balkans.  And the convergence – our convergence on these issues illustrates a strong and solid foundation on which the Austrian-American strategic partnership is built.  And our partnership, and if I may say so, our friendship – also personal friendship – is not only based on common interests, it is more based even on common values and our common commitment to the rule of law, to checks and balances, to democracy, and to fundamental freedoms.

And, yes, you have probably heard me very repeatedly say that I believe that Europe and the U.S. have probably taken each other too much for granted over the last couple of years, but this has fundamentally changed, I believe.  And in these trying times, we realize that we do not only share but we also have to defend the values that unite us.  And in face of Russian’s aggression against Ukraine, including its hybrid actions and activities, it is more important than ever that we continue to stand together side by side.  And I believe very strongly that how we act together now will significantly impact on the way we are seen for the decades to come.  We all know that others, other actors on this planet, watching us.

And talking about the Middle East, here we are equally strongly like-minded countries.  Our commitment to Israel’s security and right to self-defense remains ironclad, but it is very clear that more needs to be done to protect civilians in Gaza.  Humanitarian law, and that is very clear, applies to everyone, everywhere.  And without doubt, we know that the military offenses – offensive in Rafah, without a credible plan what to do to protect the civilians, will trigger only terror and disaster.  We urgently need a humanitarian pause to get the hostages out of Gaza and more humanitarian aid into Gaza.  And we should never forget that among these over 130 hostages, there’s one Austrian-Israeli family father who now for 161 days is in the hands of Hamas.

And in this respect, I’m extremely thankful, not only to the vital role of the United States, but also to your personal tireless and extraordinary commitment of engagement in the region.  And I welcome any initiative that enables more humanitarian aid to reach the people in Gaza.  The Austrian Republic itself has offered 23 million euro in support, and I know that we are talking now about the sea or airborne help.  I believe we have to do everything together to protect the people in need there.

And we also discussed a region, which is a neighboring region to Austria which is close to our heart, which is the Western Balkans.  And here again we are both committed to the European future of this region and its citizens.  And I just wanted to point out, among the many things we do together, the Austrian – the Austrian-American program Speak Up – and Bosnia and Herzegovina is for me a prime example of the cooperation between the United States and Austria can really do a difference on the ground.

And we know now that we have important decisions coming up: European Council on Bosnia and Herzegovina opening the accession talks.  And there are still very strongly advocates for this step because in view of the – you could say the circle of fire surrounding Europe, we have to make sure that our immediate neighborhood is stabilized.  And there’s no vacuum in politics.  So, either we manage to export our model of life, our stability, our security, or we risk being confronted with growing insecurity and instability.

And let me add finally on a more bilateral note that the United States is not only our second biggest trade partner in export market, and significant investments are actually ongoing in United States, but I’m also extremely happy to see how our strategic partnership is prospering, also thanks to the work of the – of our Austrian ambassador and Washington ambassador – American ambassador here in Vienna.  I’m happy to say that we – just a couple of weeks ago – signed the Working Holiday Program, which is a very good thing; and the Austrian-American Media Fellowship Program, which we already launched a couple of years ago, is proving to be a true success story.

So, I believe with these programs we push our strategic partnership on a new level, and this level should be even expanded.  We need more than less people-to-people contact.  We want more exchange, more dialogue.  We have to understand each other.  And I believe in this year, 2024, it’s probably more important than in others.  We have important elections coming up in Austria and in the United States.

On all these issues, I can assure you Austria is a strong partner, and for us, you are an indispensable friend.  And again, on this note, thank you for being here.  And I’m happy to welcome you and happy for the talks we have here in Vienna, and we had already in the past.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Minister.  Mr. Secretary, the floor is yours.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, Minister Schallenberg, Alexander, my friend, my colleague, thank you.  Thank you for the incredibly warm welcome, and my thanks as well and especially to the chancellor for the extremely productive, and in-depth conversation that we just had.  I greatly appreciate it and value it.

And yes, the fundamental fact is that we have deep appreciation for the friendship between Austria and the United States and the partnership between our countries, a partnership for freedom, for security, for prosperity.  In so many ways, in so many places, our countries are working together to try to continuously move in that direction.

Here in Europe, the Russian aggression against Ukraine continues, but Austria has been a stalwart supporter of Ukraine from day one and a key member of an alliance of more than 50 countries coming together in different ways to support Ukraine.  Austria may be militarily neutral, but it is very much not politically neutral.  And we see that in the extraordinarily generous support that the Austrian people have provided to Ukrainian refugees.  We see it in the humanitarian assistance that Austria is providing to people in Ukraine and, of course, the strong support for the European Union sanctions to try to make sure that the Russians and Putin don’t have the resources to continue to fuel the war machine that continues this aggression against Ukraine.

We discussed this.  We discussed as well the energy situation for Europe, and here, I have to say what’s happened over the last couple of years is quite remarkable: the move away from dependence on Russian energy.  The United States has very much supported this move, including with liquefied natural gas.  And we discussed the ongoing transition that countries are making really redrawing the energy map of Europe at a critical time.

As the foreign minister mentioned, we’re also collaborating on other key regional priorities, and notably the Western Balkans.  And here, I really have to commend Austria’s longstanding leadership and the foreign minister’s personal leadership and engagement.  This is something that is near and dear to our hearts, and especially President Biden, because for the President and for me – when I started out the 1990s, so much of the focus of the world was on the Balkans, on Bosnia, on Kosovo.

And one thing we don’t need, that Europe doesn’t need, and especially the people of the Western Balkans don’t need is a back-to-the-future moment, where we find ourselves back in the 1990s.  And thanks to the engagement of Austria, the leadership of Austria, we’re moving decisively in a different direction, a positive direction, a direction in which the Western Balkans is genuinely integrated with Europe.  We share the goal of a democratic, prosperous, peaceful region integrated with the rest of Europe.

The European Commission’s recommendation to open accession talks and negotiations with Bosnia Herzegovina is something that’s very welcome.  We fully support their Euro-Atlantic path, including with the European Union.  And we also encourage the leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina to move past divisions to pursue reform, reform necessary to move down the path toward the EU.  And here, we really benefited from the foreign minister’s insights, not just from his recent visit but from all his engagement.

And here, we will continue to partner strongly.  The foreign minister mentioned the emerging voices program that we have together.  We want to make sure that this new generation and the region that its voice is heard, because it’s a voice for peace, for security, for stability, for opportunity, and that comes with the path toward the European Union.

We’re also working together to support an improvement of relations between Kosovo and Serbia.  There, the EU-facilitated dialogue is the only viable mechanism, the only viable path forward.  We need to see good-faith, constructive efforts by both Kosovo and Serbia to stabilize the relationship and to move down that path, keep tensions low, to increase coordination, to increase transparency with international partners, to implement all of the commitments that are in the dialogue.

Austria is also, has long been, and remains a vibrant crossroads for the world and for the international community, hosting here so many UN agencies and organizations that are doing critical work to actually address the challenges that people are facing all around the world.  One of my priorities for this visit was to spend time with the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs at their 67th session.  It’s the first time that someone in my position as secretary of state has actually taken part in this very, very important meeting.  And I think it’s a testament to our commitment to and our conviction that partnerships are the best way to address shared challenges.

Now, why are we here today for that?  It’s pretty simple.  In the United States, there is virtually not a town, a city, or a state that has not been affected and in some cases devastated by synthetic opioids – and notably fentanyl.  More than 40 percent of the American people knows someone who died from an opioid overdose.  The number one killer of Americans age 18 to 45 is fentanyl.  So, this has to be – and this is – a priority for President Biden, for our administration, for our country.

We’ve also seen that while we may have been the canary in the coalmine on one synthetic opioid, fentanyl, while we were first, unfortunately we’re not last.  And we see that as markets get saturated in the United States and even in our own hemisphere, the cartels, the criminal organizations, are trying to make markets elsewhere.  That’s one of the reasons, along with the fact that other drugs – methamphetamines, ketamine, Captagon – in different parts of the world, are having devastating impacts.

And so, you’re seeing countries increasingly come together because we know, because of the international nature of this challenge, that we have to work together if we’re going to be effective.  Last July the United States put together a global coalition to address synthetic drugs.  We had about 80 countries at our first meeting; we’re now up to over 151 countries and 14 international organizations.  And that, again, is evidence of the fact that so many countries are seeing that this is a problem that already is or could soon be coming to them.

And together, we are sharing best practices, we are developing initiatives, new policies, new programs, new approaches, to be more effective in dealing with the challenge of synthetic drugs.  This global coalition has developed, through its working groups – 1,500 participants from all of these countries and these working groups – 120 new specific initiatives for how to effectively address the problem.  And we very much appreciate Austria’s very active participation in all three of the working – major working groups that we established.

Today we announced the United States Government is taking some additional steps.  We’re advocating for the addition of two chemical precursors to the international control list.  These are the ingredients that go into making synthetic drugs.  And making sure that those key ingredients are controlled is one of the most effective ways to make sure that they’re not illicitly transferred and turned into something like fentanyl.  We’ll sponsor a resolution on overdose prevention and response, on harm reduction, and we just pledged an additional $170 million for international efforts to address synthetic drugs through the UNODC, on top of the 100 million that we announced back in September.

Finally, I had a chance as well to spend time at the IAEA, and met with Director General Grossi.  We discussed the dangers to global security from Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, and in particular, the threat that that has posed to the Zaporizhya nuclear power facility.  The IAEA’s efforts to prevent a nuclear catastrophe are in service of quite literally everyone on this planet.  We also expressed support for the IAEA safeguards and verification mandate, something that is critical in a variety of places around the world.  And in particular, we discussed how we can best support the director general’s efforts to support full Iranian cooperation with its obligations.

Beyond the regional, beyond the global partnership, as the foreign minister said, we have an incredibly strong bilateral partnership between our countries.  And especially in times of challenge, there’s no greater source of confidence, no greater source of strength, than the kind of friendship and partnership that we have with Austria.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, ministers.  The first question – Mr. Schutz, APA.

QUESTION:  I wanted to ask a question to both of you.  It’s about Middle East because there are some brand-new issues.  The Israel Government today has approved a military offensive on Rafah.  What do you think about that?  Is there a risk of a humanitarian disaster?

FOREIGN MINISTER SCHALLENBERG:  Okay.  As I said already at the beginning – and I was just recently, 10 days ago, in the Middle East, and I had discussions on this issue among them with the – our Israeli colleague, Israel Katz, but also in Amman and in Ramallah.  At the time, the Israeli – our Israeli friends told us that if an offensive on Rafah were to start, they would supply us with a credible plan on how to deal with the 1-point-plus million refugees, you might say – internally displaced Palestinians – who are now amassed in south of Gaza Strip.  And I believe this is necessary.

As I said, Israel has – it is in a dilemma.  As a rule-of-law state fighting terrorists, it’s a very unequal sort of fight – unequal fight.  On the one side you have a terrorist organization, Hamas, not abiding, not respecting any rule, less even humanitarian law.  But Israel has to measure itself by international law.  And the decision or the plan, as far as I understand, is – doesn’t mean yet that it will be executed immediately, simply that the prime minister was presented with a plan and that he has given a green light.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  And I could – the easiest thing for me to do would be to say exactly what the foreign minister said because we have exactly the same position.  But simply to repeat, President Biden has been very clear that given the large number of civilians in Rafah – about 1.4 million, many of whom, as the foreign minister said, have been displaced from other parts of Gaza – we have to see a clear and implementable plan not only to get civilians out of harm’s way, but also to make sure that, once out of harm’s way, they are appropriately cared for with shelter, with food, with medicine, with clothing, and we have not yet seen such a plan.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Bloomberg, Mr. Marlow.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Mr. Secretary, thanks.  I just have a few questions on Israel-Gaza, also.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  A few?  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  Yeah.  Please bear with me.


QUESTION:  We’ve seen increasingly critical comments from President Biden on Gaza in recent weeks, sanctions on West Bank settlers this week from the State Department, and Senator Schumer’s call for Netanyahu to be replaced on Thursday, prompting Israel to say they’re not a banana republic.  What do you make of this broader deterioration in ties?  And have relations gotten so bad that it could undermine broader U.S. efforts on negotiations about what happens the day after the war?

Secondly, President Biden did call an invasion of Rafah a redline, and I know you just discussed this proposal, but it seems that Netanyahu’s – the prime minister’s office in Israel said that they’re now reviewing a plan.  Have U.S. officials seen that plan?  And is a safe evacuation even possible given that there’s 1.5 million people sheltering there?

And just thirdly, a quick last one:  Israel also said it’s seen Hamas’s counteroffer on the hostage ceasefire deal.  Have U.S. officials reviewed that counteroffer?  And does it look like a deal is within reach?

And Foreign Minister Schallenberg, a senior U.S. Treasury official visited Vienna earlier this month, telling financial institutions here about the risk of potentially violating sanctions on Russia.  Did you discuss this with the Secretary today?  And have Austria’s business ties with Russia affected diplomatic ties with the U.S. in any way?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Iain, thank you, and I also want to thank you on behalf of your colleagues since you were able to ask presumably their questions as well.  (Laughter.)

So, look, we are working every single day with the Israeli Government on all of the challenges that the situation poses to Israel, to Palestinians, to other countries in the region, and that’s happening across our governments and it’s happening on a whole variety of issues, including our commitment to help make sure Israel is able to defend itself and not ever see a repeat of October 7th; to make sure, though, at the same time, that more and better is being done to protect civilians in harm’s way in Gaza, to get the humanitarian assistance they so desperately need to the children, to the women, and the men; to look at everything that needs to be done to prevent the conflict from spreading, including to the north with Hizballah, Lebanon, or more broadly in the region.

And in each of these instances and so many more – and I’ll come to the hostage question in a moment – we’re working on a – almost more than daily basis with the Government of Israel.  As past administrations have worked with Israeli governments, whatever party or persuasion they were, whatever party or persuasion our own government was, that’s the nature of the relationship.  Also, the nature of the relationship – and this is particularly true of President Biden, who has such a longstanding history with Israel – as he said and I’m sure you’ve heard him say, he’s worked with every Israeli prime minister going back to Golda Meir.  He speaks very directly, very candidly, very openly about our views, our perspectives, our thoughts with our partners.  That’s fundamental to the relationship.  That’s actually the strength of the relationship, to be able to speak clearly, candidly, and directly.

On Rafah, as I’ve said – I won’t repeat it, but you asked specifically have we seen the plan that has been alluded to now in the press, and the answer is no, we’ve not yet seen it.

On the hostages, yes, there has been a counterproposal put forward by Hamas.  I obviously can’t get into the details of what that involves.  But what I can tell you is we’re working intensively with Israel, with Qatar, with Egypt to bridge the remaining gaps and to try to reach an agreement.  We have conversations that are happening now as we speak here, and I am convinced they’ll go on into the coming days.  Israel has sent back a negotiating team to pursue this.  And I think it reflects the sense both of possibility and of urgency to get an agreement, to get a ceasefire, to get the hostages back, to get even more humanitarian assistance in.  This is something that we’re committed to, and we will work as long and as hard as it takes to get it done.

FOREIGN MINISTER SCHALLENBERG:  May I add to this last point here?  We see again very much eye to eye with our American friends.  We talk about acts of violence of radical settlers, we talk about provocations on holy sites, settlements or calls for displacement.  We are friends of Israel as well, but I believe it’s up to friends to find open words, and our line is very clear, very much like yours.  I’ve been already in the past calling for sanctions by the European Union on violent extremist settlers.  I think their actions are extremely dangerous, and an act of lack of solidarity in the country which is in a fundamental crisis and fight for the time being.  And to ignite a fire in the West Bank while the fighting has gone in Gaza is irresponsible and – fully irresponsible.

On your question on Russia, we discussed the whole area of relationship with Ukraine, Russia.  And it’s no secret that Austria is heavily engaged, was heavily engaged in Ukraine and in Russia.  We’re the sixth biggest investor in Ukraine.  Two hundred companies are still there and have remained, although war is raging there.  And yes, Austrian companies were also present in Russia and are partly still present, as about 95 percent of all Western companies.

There are American companies, a lot of them, that are in Russia too.  From my perspective and as the foreign minister of Austria, it’s very clear and there’s no doubt and cannot be any doubt about it:  Sanctions have to be respected fully, all sanctions in place.  There cannot be any exceptions.  And we talk very – in a very transparent and open manner on these issues with all our partners within the European Union, and also with our American friends.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  ORF.

QUESTION:  Alexander Kofler, Austrian Broadcasting Corporation.  A question for Mr. Secretary:  What do you think – because you spoke about the energy markets in Europe, what do you think about the still strong dependency of Austria on Russian fossil fuels, gas, and so on?  Is there a way for the U.S. to support Austria to become more independent from Russia?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you very much.  I think the reason that we’re all – and by “all,” I mean the United States, Europe, and others – are so focused on this issue is because Putin uses energy as a weapon.  He’s very effectively weaponized it over the years, and the dependence that built up over many decades in Europe on Russian energy, well, we see the consequence and the price of that.  That’s why what’s happened over the last couple of years in Europe more broadly, moving away in ways that I don’t think people could have imagined just a few years ago from that dependence, is so important – because it takes away the strategic weapon that Putin has made of energy.

Now, different countries have different energy relationships with Russia, again, that had built up over many, many decades.  So, it’s not always easy to change these things in one moment.  It’s a process and it’s a transition, but I think we see some very important steps that Austria has taken and is taking.  And to that end, for the United States, as we’ve done with many partners in Europe, we want to be able to help, and we have with LNG, liquefied natural gas.  We’ll continue to do that.

The other thing that’s, I think, very beneficial in this moment is it’s also an opportunity for countries to focus and double down on the transition away from fossil fuels.  Again, it’s a transition, it’s not a light switch, but Austria is a company – is a country that’s leading by remarkable example when it comes to renewables in its energy economy, setting a very, very strong example.  But I think there are opportunities here to do even more.

And, by the way, one of the things that we talked about at the IAEA, again not specific to Austria but just in general, are the opportunities that now exist for nuclear power, including small modular reactors and other new technology that can make a big difference.



FOREIGN MINISTER SCHALLENBERG:  — for the American journalists – the line of the Austrian Government is very clear.  We want to move out of Russian gas, because as you said, rightly, for the first time we saw that it can be weaponized.  It can be used to exercise pressure.  And that is something which I have to point out we – the first agreement between the OMV, the Austrian company, and Gazprom goes back – dates back to 1968.  Soviet Union fell apart, they delivered, we paid.  Iron Curtain fell, they delivered, we paid.

Nobody ever, ever used gas or grain or any other of these products as a leverage.  Putin is the first one.  It wasn’t Andropov; it wasn’t Chernenko.  It wasn’t anybody of those.  It wasn’t the Soviet Union.  Putin was the first one.  So, we – and yes, we, we have probably over the decades – because it was comfortable, it was possible – created a dependency, but we have moved out now aggressively to a certain degree, and we will continue doing so.  The aim of the Austrian Government is to be 100 percent independent of Russian gas by 2027.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  And there’s one last question.  New York Times – Mr. Crowley, please.

QUESTION:  Thank you both.  Secretary Blinken, the good news is I have no more questions than my colleague did.  (Laughter.)  The bad news is I do have a multipart question.  On Iran, there was a report this week that the U.S. has conducted secret indirect talks with Iran, in part about its nuclear program.  Is there any chance you would comment on that and say what our current message to Iran about its nuclear program might be?  Also related to Iran and since you have both talked about Ukraine, what is your latest sense of the possibility that Iran will supply missiles to Russia, presumably for use on the battlefield in Ukraine?  And what would be the U.S. and Western response to that?

And then very briefly on Haiti, it’s now been more than three days since your trip to Jamaica and the agreement that established plans for this transitional council to appoint members.  We were told that would happen within a day or two.  We’re now about three or four days past that.  There are some reports that that process is not going so well.  Are you concerned that that process is breaking down, and is there a plan B if it does?

And Mr. Minister, a question that I’m sure is a very familiar part of the debate here in Austria but less familiar to Americans:  Now that Sweden and Finland have abandoned their own military neutrality, and joined NATO because of their concerns about Russian aggression, I wonder if you could talk about whether there’s any rethinking of Austria’s own neutrality and any prospect that you might consider NATO membership in the foreseeable future.  Thank you both.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Michael, with regard to Iran, our message is clear and it’s public and it’s a message that’s shared by many others countries, notably by France, by the UK, by Germany, by the European Union, which is to stop taking steps to increase its nuclear capacity by spinning more centrifuges and by enriching more uranium, and to move in the other direction.  And we’ve been very clear about that.  One of the reasons I was here at the IAEA today was precisely to talk about the work the IAEA is doing to try, despite the very challenging circumstances, to make sure that it’s monitoring, verifying, and also holding Iran to its safeguard agreements and requirements that it has under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

So, this is something that we’ve been very clear on, and we’re in very close coordination with European countries on this, with the EU, and also supporting the IAEA.  And look, beyond that, I don’t have anything to add, but I think there’s – it’s very clear what we – and by we, I mean all of these countries plus, more broadly, many in the international community – expect of Iran.

On the question of Iranian missiles to Russia for use in Ukraine, there too we’ve sent very clear messages to Iran not to do it.  And this has been the subject of considerable conversation among a number of countries in Europe and the United States, and I think that the concern about that eventuality and the commitment to address it – if necessary, is very real and very strong.

On Haiti – so this is never going to be smooth, never going to be linear.  An agreement was reached – a Haitian-led agreement was reached to move to a new transitional administration, a presidential council, one that would be inclusive, that would bring in all the major stakeholders, all the major parties; that would have responsibility for naming a new prime minister – an interim prime minister – naming a national security council, an electoral commission – all with the objective of putting Haiti clearly on the path to elections and to restrengthening its democracy.

What we’ve seen over the last 24 hours is there’s seven seats on this transitional council, and most of the parties or stakeholders that were given a seat have actually named their representative to the council.  There are a couple that still haven’t so that’s a work in progress, but we’ve seen that move forward.

Relatedly, but separately, is the whole question of security in Haiti, because moving forward on a political transition and getting to elections – being able to provide humanitarian assistance to get it to people who need it, as well as helping the economy develop – that – none of that happens if there is profound insecurity, which is what we’ve seen now with the gangs taking over parts of the capital city, Port-au-Prince, challenging the airport, challenging the ports, et cetera.

So, as you know, we’ve been working for some many months now on having a Multinational Security Support force led by Kenya with the participation of other African countries, Caribbean countries, go in and support the Haitian National Police, help them regain control of Haiti.  And that too is moving forward.  We have made additional commitments to that force in terms of our financial contributions, our in-kind contributions.  Other countries have stood up in recent weeks, including Canada, with substantial contributions to that force.

Once the new council – the – is fully stood up – and again, I would anticipate that happens in the coming days – that process with the force will be able to move forward, and then we have a trajectory that has at least the chance of putting Haiti in a more stable place.

But having said all of that, every single day there are challenges to that process.  There are political challenges.  There’s security challenges.  And we’re working to address them, but the Haitian people are leading this process.  This is their process, but they have strong support from countries throughout the region in the Caribbean and well beyond.  And we’ll continue to try to marshal that support and help them move forward.  It’s – look, it’s challenging, but it is moving and we’re committed to doing everything we can to support it.

FOREIGN MINISTER SCHALLENBERG:  On your question of neutrality – thank you, by the way, because it gives me the opportunity to maybe clarify one of the other point – you’re right to point out that Sweden and Finland took the decision to join NATO.  I believe we have to take – we have to be aware that the geographic position – the history of neutrality in these countries, which were actually non-aligned – that’s neutral – is very different.  And after the experience of the First and Second World War, which actually started in Central Europe, when we adopted the constitutional law on everlasting – and we call it everlasting neutrality – it was a very important intellectual and emotional step for us, and it became part of our self-perception to a certain degree in this country.  According to the Swiss model at the time was – the Swiss neutrality was actually the buzzword.

And I want to point out one thing.  Our neutrality is a strictly military neutrality.  We are not neutral as far as values and principles are concerned.  So, if a country – and it might be a permanent member of the UN Security Council – believes that he can kick out all the principles of the UN Charter and simply invade a neighboring country, we won’t stand by idly and simply watch on.  We have a very clear position.  And that is not new.  This is not invented by this government.  I always point out in 1956, when Soviet tanks were driving through Budapest, the very young then, fully sovereign Austria – already then at the General Assembly of the UN – supported every resolution against the Soviet Union and even issued one or put one on the table themselves.

So, our position has been always very clear, and if you ask why, then I can be very clear, too – because international law is for us not a luxury.  It keeps us safe.  We need a rule-based international order.  We need other countries – whether they’re big or small, whether they have nukes or not – to stick to the rules, to the principle of pacta sunt servanda.  So, on these issues, Austria will never be neutral.  But in military terms, and we show it in Ukraine, we don’t deliver lethal equipment, but we deliver more humanitarian aid per capita than other countries.  That is our approach in this crisis, and we continue on this policy.

And I might add that the neutrality has a very strong public support in Austria.  Nearly 80 percent of the people stand behind it.  So, there is no question on this matter.  We fully respect the decision by our friends in Finland and Sweden, but this is not the way we have an intention of going down this now.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Excellencies.  Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.  And for those of you who are lucky enough, have a good weekend.  Thanks.

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originally published at Politics - JISIP NEWS