QUESTION: So Mr. Secretary, thank you for taking the time to be with us.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s good to be with you.
QUESTION: And I hope you had a nice time in Norway. I understood from the press conference that you like it so much that you open a new American Presence Post —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We did.
QUESTION: — in Tromsø.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We did. A little further north, but it’s our – actually our first diplomatic post north of the circle. I think it’ll enable us to do what we’ve been doing in close collaboration with Norway for many years, which is ensuring that the Arctic remains a region for peaceful cooperation. And for us, being able to have this additional Presence Post will only further enable that. And of course, we’re doing that at a time when Norway’s taking on the leadership of the Arctic Council.
QUESTION: Right. You mentioned also the presence of another prominent American guest these days, the Gerald Ford.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yes.
QUESTION: And for many Norwegians, I think that was a source of security and a feeling of partnership. And for some, it’s bit of a sense of insecurity, that it’s felt as an unnecessary provocation for a country with a border to Russia. What would you say to those Norwegians?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I think it’s simply a manifestation of the deep security ties that have long existed between Norway and the United States as close partners, and of course, as NATO Allies. And this is a time of increased challenge in the region and beyond. And we take very seriously our commitment as an Ally in NATO, just as Norway does, including with its own commitment now to reach 2 percent of GDP spending on defense in the next couple of years. We take those commitments very seriously, but the presence of the Gerald Ford I think just underscores the fact that we are close security collaborators.
But also I think it’s important to remind people that across so many issues of direct concern to our two countries, but also to people around the world, the United States and Norway are the closest of partners, working together around the world to deal effectively with climate change, to strengthen global health, to strengthen food security – so many other things that people around the world are looking for and where the United States and Norway are leaders. But security is also a part of the relationship and that’s as it should be. NATO is a – excuse me – Norway is one of the founding members of our NATO Alliance. Some of the work that we’ve been doing in recent years together is to make sure that that Alliance is as strong as it can be, particularly, unfortunately, as we see a more aggressive Russia.
QUESTION: And we see a more aggressive Russia in one and a half years ago, more or less. You were the one who told Volodymyr Zelenskyy that you had intelligence about the coming full‑fledged invasion of his country. Could you say something about that conversation and the way you see the world has fundamentally changed since that October day?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first, I wish we’d been wrong about the information that we had. Because the last thing we wanted was a war of Russian aggression against Ukraine. We worked very, very hard to prevent it. We spent many months engaging Russia diplomatically, trying to see if there was a way to stop the aggression that we saw coming. We saw the storm clouds gathering, and yes, we had very clear information that this what Russia was planning.
And it is a unique experience to tell the leader of another country that we think that person’s country is going to be invaded. So that was my responsibility with President Zelenskyy, and he took it very seriously, very stoically. One of the advantages that we had, and that Ukraine had to some extent is that because we could see this coming there was more time to prepare. And we were able to do that both with and for Ukraine, but also among so many of the other countries that have been supporting Ukraine.
And I think what we’ve seen in the last year and a half is extraordinary solidarity and unity – unity of purpose, unity of action when it comes to defending Ukraine and helping it repel the Russian aggression and take back land that’s been seized from it; unity of action when it comes to putting pressure on Russia to stop what it’s doing and to make it harder for it to do it again in the future; unity of action when it comes to strengthen the NATO Alliance, a defensive alliance that has never posed a threat to Russia, does not pose a threat to Russia going forward, but is essential to the defense of all of the – all of its members. And we’ve taken very important steps to strengthen the Alliance just in case Russia’s aggression expands beyond Ukraine.
QUESTION: And now Ukraine would like to join NATO as soon as possible. How soon is it possible for the United States to accept their membership application?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, any such decision, of course, in our Alliance has to be done by consensus. All 31 current members have to agree. We had a lengthy conversation today about the upcoming NATO Summit in Vilnius, where our leaders will come together. And first, everyone stands behind the Bucharest statement at the NATO Summit in Bucharest about NATO’s door being fully open to Ukraine, and that door remains very much open.
At the same time, we’re intensely focused on what we can do now to help Ukraine, to support Ukraine, in the effort to take back more of its territory from Russia, as well as to help it build up its medium and longer-term ability to deter aggression in the future and to defend itself against that aggression if it comes nonetheless.
So I think heading to the summit what – based on the conversation we had today with foreign ministers, I think you can anticipate a very robust package of both political and practical support in Vilnius. But I’ll leave it to the leaders to provide the details.
QUESTION: There’s been talk about long-term guarantees or long-term support packages. There is a presidential election in the United States coming up. How sure can Ukraine be that long-term guarantees last beyond that election?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, there’s no certainty in life about anything. But I think what you’ve seen thus far in the United States, as well as in many countries around the world, is sustained solidarity with Ukraine. And in the United States, that’s been done on a bipartisan basis. The $38 billion or so of assistance, security assistance, that we’ve provided to Ukraine has been done on a bipartisan basis. And I don’t see that changing.
At the same time, the steps that Norway just took to have assistance provided over the next five years – that’s hugely important for two reasons. First, that’s exactly what’s needed to help Ukraine build up its deterrence and defense capacity. That takes time and having that sustained support is necessary. But it also sends a hugely important message to President Putin that he’s not going to outwait us. He’s not going to be able to just wait until support for Ukraine stops and then continue what he’s doing. Norway is demonstrating – and I think we will demonstrate, other countries will demonstrate – that our support for Ukraine will be enduring.
And the best – ultimately the best defense for Ukraine is to have the strongest possible military in order to be able to effectively deter aggression or defend against it, if it comes nonetheless, and the strongest possible economy. And that requires two things. It requires Ukraine to continue to pursue the reforms that it’s been engaged in and it also requires its further integration with Europe. And there’s now a process, of course, with the European Union for it to do just that. If we move forward, as we fully anticipate doing, with this longer-term security assistance and Ukraine’s economic integration with Europe, then Ukraine will not only survive; it will thrive. And that will be its best possible defense against further aggression.
QUESTION: Are you concerned about the drone attacks on Russian territory? Does that change your view on U.S. support to Ukraine in any way?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, two things. We in the United States – we neither endorse nor enable, as a practical matter, any attacks beyond Ukraine’s own territory. Ukraine has to make its own decisions about how best to defend itself, but in terms of the United States, we don’t – as I say – enable or endorse attacks beyond the territory.
At the same time, it’s really important to keep this in mind: virtually every single day the Russians are unleashing wave after wave of missiles and drone attacks on civilians in Ukraine. Just last month alone in May 17 such attacks on Kyiv – not military targets. And this has been the constant, constant state of affairs since a year ago when Russia first reinvaded Ukraine. That is the reality, and we can’t lose sight of that.
QUESTION: Do you think Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg should stay on for a couple of months in this difficult situation?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I can simply say this about Jens Stoltenberg: he has been an extraordinary leader of the NATO Alliance at a time when it mattered most. He’s brought an incredibly strong and steady hand to his leadership with the Alliance, and the result is an Alliance that is stronger, that is bigger, and that is more united than ever. So again, we’ll leave it to the leaders to talk about what comes next, but we’re living in the moment and grateful in this moment for Jens Stoltenberg’s leadership.
QUESTION: One last short question. Is that okay? Yeah. I was wondering Sweden has now been waiting for almost a year, and there seems to be increased pressure on Türkiye these days to make a decision. What can the U.S. do, in addition to what you’ve already done, to convince President Erdogan that now is the time?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, this is not a matter for the U.S. This is a matter for the entire NATO Alliance. And the admission of any new member – first of all, it’s a process. And if you look at this historically – and actually this process has moved quickly, particularly with the accession of Finland, and I fully anticipate the accession of Sweden very soon. And part of that process is members of the Alliance raising any concerns that they have.
In this case, Türkiye raised some concerns, and those concerns have been fully addressed by Sweden, as well as before that by Finland, including with an agreement that they signed regarding actions that they would take to counter terrorism. And in fact, today they’re implementing a new counterterrorism law in Sweden that is part of something they agreed to do in their conversations and discussions with Türkiye.
As far as we’re concerned, Sweden has done everything and more that it said it would do. It’s very appropriate to have this process. It’s very appropriate that the legitimate concerns of members be addressed as they were, but that’s now been done.
And so in our judgement – but not just in our judgement, in the judgement of virtually every other member of the Alliance – and I heard that very clearly expressed today – foreign minister after foreign minister said, okay, the time is now for Sweden to join the Alliance. So it is my strong expectation that that will happen in the weeks ahead. And again, that’s not just us. That’s virtually every member of the Alliance saying the same thing, and I suspect those views will be made known to all those who need to hear them.
QUESTION: But it seems President Erdogan wants to have some news about American F-16s going to Türkiye as well?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: These are totally unrelated matters. We very much support – the Biden administration very much supports providing F-16s to Türkiye or upgrading the F-16s that it has, just as we very much and very strongly support Sweden’s immediate accession to NATO. But these are two distinct issues. They’re not related to each other.
We’ll continue to advocate back home in Washington with members of Congress who need to approve any such sale or provision of F-16s to Türkiye for that, and at the same time we look to Türkiye to take the steps necessary to admit Sweden. This process has, I think, been very productive, but the process in our judgement has now come to an end. Sweden has fulfilled the commitments that it made. It’s time for it to join NATO.
QUESTION: One last one.
MODERATOR: We’ve got to go.
QUESTION: Are you sure? Yeah. Okay. Well —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much.
QUESTION: — thank you so much for your time, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good to be with you. Thank you so much.
Official news published at https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-with-simen-ekern-of-nrk-tv/
originally published at Politics - JISIP NEWS