Remarks by Secretary Antony J. Blinken at a Press Briefing During UNGA76

Secretary Antony J. Blinken
U.S. Department of State
New York, New York
September 23, 2021


SECRETARY ANTONY BLINKEN: Good evening, everyone. So we’ve had what I think I can accurately say is a busy few days here at the UN General Assembly.

And in fact, this week marked the first UN General Assembly since President Biden took office, and I think it demonstrated the approach that the United States, under his leadership, is bringing to engaging in and with the rest of the world.

We believe it makes a difference when the United States shows up, listens, leads; gives us a unique platform to bring others together in tackling the great challenges of our time. It allows us to strengthen the rules and institutions that have helped defend our values and advance our interests for many years. And all of that, ultimately, is crucial to and comes down to trying to deliver for the American people, which is the animating principle behind our foreign policy.

It’s particularly important that we show up when some are trying to change the rules and principles at the core of the United Nations, which all member-states have bound themselves to, including the most powerful countries. They agreed out of a shared recognition that this would ultimately serve not only humanity’s interests, but their own, and that remains true today.

They also agreed that advancing human rights and dignity was a core part of this enterprise – and that these rights are universal – not subjective values that vary from one society to another. And they rejected the claim that we sometimes hear today that the way governments treat people within their borders is their own business.

Now that doesn’t mean that when we engage, we always agree, especially in a forum as big as the United Nations. But we engage because we recognize that, as President Biden put it, there’s a fundamental truth in the 21st century that our own success is bound up with others succeeding as well. To deliver for our own people – to confront what are truly global challenges in our time – we simply have to work together with other countries.

So that’s why you’ve seen the United States making such a determined effort to revitalize alliances and partnerships. We’ve reaffirmed our unshakable commitment to NATO, and in particular, to Article 5, as well as our defense of our Allies in East Asia. We’re renewing, we’re broadening, we’re deepening engagement with the European Union and elevating the Quad partnership. We’re re-engaging with regional institutions – from ASEAN to the African Union to the Organization of American States.

And, of course, we’re revitalizing our engagement here at the UN. We rejoined the World Health Organization, the Paris Climate Agreement, we’re seeking a seat at the Human Rights Council, we’ve re-engaged with the UN Population Fund, with the UN LGBTI Core Group.

We are determined to be at the table, and we are.

And that’s why you saw our team engaging in what President Biden called “relentless diplomacy” this week. I think by the end of today, I will have met with more than 60 countries in bilateral, regional, or multilateral groupings – including the G20, the P5, ASEAN, the GCC, the C5, my counterparts from Central America and Mexico.

And across all of these diplomatic engagements this week, two challenges stood out above the rest.

The first is COVID-19.

At the summit that the President convened yesterday, he announced new commitments by the United States to end this pandemic, including purchasing an additional half a billion additional doses of the Pfizer vaccine. That brings the number of safe, effective doses the United States will donate to more than 1.1 billion – and without any strings attached. We are also laser-focused on getting the international community to work together toward three critically important goals.

First, we have to vaccinate billions more people and do it as fast as we can – fully vaccinating at least 70 percent of the population in every country, at every income level, by the end of next year, 2022.

Second, we have to take bold steps right now to save lives – from expanding access to oxygen and therapeutics to treat the sick, to closing massive gaps in testing capacity.

And third, we have to build back better when it comes to global health security – to end this pandemic and put ourselves in a better position to prevent, to detect, to defeat the next one.

So the message that we’ve been sending is clear: It’s not enough to say that we will do better. Our health, our economies, our security demand that we meet our commitments and chart a path to end this pandemic, once and for all.

And we’re going to seize every opportunity to advance that effort, including the upcoming G20 meeting, holding ourselves and the international community accountable to these commitments that we set out at the summit. And to help keep up the momentum, at the President’s instruction, I’ll be convening foreign ministers for a meeting on COVID-19 before the end of the year. The President himself will host heads of state at – on the pandemic in early – in the early part of next year, 2022.

The second big challenge is the climate crisis. We are only weeks away now from COP26, and if we’re going to prevent cataclysmic consequences and keep within reach the essential goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, every nation has to come to the table with their highest possible ambitions. And we have a ways to go.

I had the opportunity to take part this morning at the Security Council in a session on climate and security, the focus of which is a recognition of the profound impact this crisis is having on international peace and security. On climate, as with the pandemic, we’re continuing to lead by the power of our example, as was evident in President Biden’s pledge at the General Assembly to work with our Congress to double our public international financing for the countries most impacted by climate change, to help them build resilience to adapt, building on levels that he had already doubled back in April.

And yet when it comes to both the pandemic and climate, the international response isn’t as aggressive as it needs to be. And that’s what we were trying and continue to work hard to emphasize here this week and in the days and weeks ahead.

Now, some might be tempted to blame that on the United Nations and other multilateral bodies. But as Richard Holbrooke once said, blaming the UN for the world’s problems is like blaming Madison Square Garden when the Knicks are not playing very well. Whether the international community rises to the challenge of our time – whether it’s COVID, whether it’s climate, whether it’s the many other challenges we discussed here this week – it ultimately always comes down to whether governments like ours step up and bring others along with us. That’s again why it’s so important for the United States to show up, to engage, and to lead,

Over the course of the week, we’ve of course had the opportunity to engage on many other critically important issues: Libya, Burma, the Iran nuclear program, DPRK, Syria, Ethiopia, regional migration. The list goes on.

Here, it’s worth noting that UN High-Level Week takes a tremendous amount of work from every single part of the State Department. Every meeting, every statement, every briefing requires planning, analysis, execution, not to mention close coordination with other parts of the U.S. Government involved in the effort. And I’ve got to say, as we conclude my own participation here, that our team has consistently delivered, and I’m grateful to them for that. So I just want to say thank you to every member of our team for everything they did to make this week effective and for their service to our fellow citizens every single day.

Before wrapping up, let me just add a few words in particular about Afghanistan.

This was the focus of discussions at the Security Council last night with the G20, as well as in a number of bilateral and multilateral meetings. Across those meetings, we underscored how critical it is that the international community remain united in its approach. The Taliban continue to seek legitimacy, international support.

Our message to the international community is that any legitimacy or support that might flow to the Taliban depends on them meeting commitments they’ve made in key areas, all of which are enshrined in a recent UN Security Council resolution.

Allowing foreign nationals and Afghans to travel outside the country, if they wish.

Preventing terrorist groups from using Afghanistan as a base for external operations that threaten other countries.

Respecting basic human rights, particularly for women, for children, for members of minority groups, and refraining from carrying out reprisals.

Allowing unimpeded humanitarian access.

And forming a genuinely inclusive government that can meet the basic needs and reflect aspirations of the Afghan people.

This is not a favor to the international community. It’s a basic requirement for a stable and secure Afghanistan. And as we hold the Taliban to these commitments, we’re continuing to work with other governments, with financial institutions, with NGOs to ease the flow of humanitarian assistance to Afghans whose lives depend on it.

And so while High-Level Week may be winding down, the relentless diplomacy the President talked about while here at the UN, around the world, that continues. And it will every single day.

One very last point: I had the chance to meet today with my French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian. And we had been at multiple meetings together this week – the P5, the G20, the meeting that he hosted with German and Italian counterparts on Libya. Our meeting today followed yesterday’s conversation between President Biden and President Macron where they agreed that the September 15th announcement would have benefited from open consultations among allies, and they decided on a process of in-depth consultations going forward. We recognize this will take time and hard work, and will be demonstrated not only in words but in deeds. And I’m committed to working closely with Minister Le Drian on this crucial effort.

On a personal note, I would just add that he and I have been friends for a long time – someone I hold in great, great esteem.

With that, I’m happy to take your questions.

MR PRICE: We’ll start with Kylie Atwood, CNN.



QUESTION: Thank you, Secretary, for doing this. I want to start with a question on Haiti. Special Envoy for Haiti Daniel Foote resigned this morning or this week, and he called the Biden administration’s “inhumane…decision to deport…Haitian refugees” and “deeply flawed” U.S. Haiti policies. I’m wondering if you had a discussion with him before accepting his resignation and if you view it as humane to deport Haitian migrants, considering that families coming to the U.S. seeking asylum should have a legal basis to stay here in the United States.

And then I have a second question, widening the aperture: There has been a tremendous amount of criticism of the Biden administration’s handling of multiple foreign policy issues recently – the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan; this new security agreement between Australia, the U.S., and the UK that enraged the French; the border crisis; the refugees from Haiti; stunted Iran deal talks. It appears the administration has mismanaged a lot of these issues. And what’s your response to that?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks, Kylie. So, starting with Haiti, first let me say this: I want to thank Dan Foote for his service, his longtime service. And you’ve heard about the disagreements that he had with the administration on Haiti policy, but I have to say I appreciate the passion that he brought to the role, the passion that he brought to his work. And I think we actually see eye to eye on the fundamental need to support the Haitian people, to buttress Haiti’s democracy.

The fact is there have been multiple senior-level conversations on Haiti where all proposals, including those put forward by Special Envoy Foote, were fully considered in a rigorous and transparent process. And ultimately, the role of the President’s Cabinet, the role of his advisors, is to provide him with the best advice possible. We don’t ignore ideas, we look at them, we consider them. But we have a policy process, and one that in our case is very inclusive, but it’s designed ultimately to decide which ideas would be effective in advancing our agenda to make recommendations to the President, and as need be, the President decides.

In that, disagreements inevitably arise. People bring strongly held views to pretty much every issue that we deal with, and especially when it’s an issue that engenders real passion like Haiti. The level of desperation among the migrants is something that can’t help but powerfully affect all of us. And so I really understand the passion that comes with this and I understand Dan’s passion.

But that’s also why both on a personal level and institutionally we are committed to doing all we can to support the people of Haiti now and going forward. We have an extraordinary ambassador in Port-au-Prince, Michele Sison. We have a newly confirmed, I’m happy to say, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols, who will travel to Haiti, and together Ambassador Sison, Assistant Secretary Nichols will be leading our efforts, along with the remarkable work done by the U.S. Agency for International Development and Administrator Power and her team.

So this is very much a focus of our efforts. I would say additionally – and obviously I refer to – I would refer you to other colleagues, including DHS, on some of these questions – but one of the very unfortunate developments that we’ve seen is that, in a variety of ways and a variety of places, some people are misinforming Haitians, whether in Haiti or Haitians residing in other countries, that they can come to the United States and stay because of the temporary protected status that was granted to Haitians who were already here some months ago.

And that misinformation is very, very unfortunate because it’s causing people to make very hazardous journeys, to put themselves in danger, to expose themselves further to COVID-19, among other things, based on the erroneous information that they can come and stay. So we’re working very hard besides working to take care of Haitians to make sure that people understand that they can’t do that.

Second, broader question. Look, we could spend time talking about each of the – each of the specifics you referenced. But what I’ve heard here this week, especially in the wake of the President’s speech, was a very strong and view almost across the board with everyone that I spoke to about their appreciation and their support for the vision that President Biden put forward in speaking to the General Assembly: a United States that is determined to work closely with other countries; a United States that understands that not a single one of the big problems and challenges we face, that our people face – the ones we’ve talked about, from COVID to climate to disruptive impact of emerging technologies – not a single one can be addressed by any of us acting alone, including the United States; that we put a premium on working with others and we put a premium on diplomacy. And the emphasis, the focus that he’s given to dealing with COVID-19 and to dealing with climate change was – resonated throughout this institution, but so did the emphasis that he put on multilateralism, and on standing up for human rights and democracy, and reminding all of us that at the heart of this entire system that we’ve all signed onto are people, individuals, not just nation-states.

So look, as I said, we can talk about each of these specifics, but I’ve got to tell you what I’ve been hearing the last couple of days in response to the President’s speech and the direction that he’s taking us in was extremely positive and extremely supportive of the United States.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary —

MR PRICE: Kylie, we need to move on. I’m sorry. Veronique Le Billon.

QUESTION: Thank you for taking my question. So you met with the foreign – Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian this morning to discuss the crisis. The French minister said that ending the crisis, I quote, would take time and would require actions. So could you be more specific? Sorry. What kind of specific actions did you discuss and could be taken in the coming months in shared interest?

And also a question about India. The Quad is gathering tomorrow, and Narendra Modi and Emmanuel Macron spoke together a few days ago and they have a partnership, as you know, quite wide. And would you welcome nuclear submarine alliance between the two countries? Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Just a couple of things. First and generally speaking, as I noted, we are working now at the direction of President Macron and President Biden on a process of in-depth consultations on a series of issues moving forward to, in very practical ways, deepen the cooperation and coordination between our countries, which for many years and in many ways is already remarkably strong, but we can do more, and we can do better.

I think that we very much welcome European engagement and French engagement and leadership in the Indo-Pacific, and that’s a point that bears emphasis. The European Union strategy that came out on the Indo-Pacific a few days ago, a strategy in which France played a leading role in developing, is one that we very, very strongly welcome. We’re going to put out our own revised strategy in the months ahead. It will be very much informed by what the European Union has done with France’s very, very strong input. And so one area where we will look to deepen our cooperation and collaboration is in the Indo-Pacific, and there are many ways in which we can do that.

Similarly, we’re working already incredibly closely together in the Sahel standing together against terrorism. France just a few days ago as well killed a senior terrorist leader who threatened both of us, and that was very important and significant action following on the work that France does every day to protect our security in the Sahel with the strong support and collaboration of the United States. We will look at ways to do even more together in the Sahel.

And, of course, we will talk about transatlantic security and European security. We very much support efforts that France feels strongly about and has led on to strengthen European security and defense capacity as necessary, to increase defense budgets, to do it, of course, in conformity with NATO. But it’s perfect – it’s very much in our interest and in Europe’s interest for those capacities to be strengthened. We applaud the work, the leadership that France has shown, that President Macron has shown in this effort as well. So these are all things that we will no doubt be talking about, as well as work that we’ve been doing together in many other parts of the world where we have very strongly shared interests.

And I’m not going to get into any specific hypotheticals about the future, but let me simply say that both France and the United States have very strong interests in strengthening even more our respective relationships with India. This is something that that we strongly support.

MR PRICE: Shaun Tandon, AFP.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Could I ask you about Iran? As you know, the new foreign minister was here, Mr. Amirabdollahian. Obviously you didn’t meet with him, but from your – your read of him from the European leaders who did meet with him, do you think that we have – that there’s a path to resume nuclear talks and to resume the – to revive the JCPOA? At what point do you think time will run out on that?

And if I could follow up on the comment you made on Afghanistan earlier, you said that you made a concerted effort on not giving them, the Taliban, legitimacy unless there’s – unless there’s progress that’s made there. Do you believe that the world is on board with that, including countries like China, like Pakistan, and all the countries in the P5? Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks. So a few things on Iran. Our Special Envoy for Iran, Rob Malley, was here as well throughout the week. He’s had a very productive few days in New York and heads back to Washington. We don’t have yet an agreement by Iran to return to the talks in Vienna. We’re very much prepared to return to Vienna to continue the talks, and the question is whether, and if so, when, Iran is prepared to do that. We have been very sincere and very steadfast in pursuing a path of meaningful diplomacy to get back to mutual compliance with the JCPOA, and also to address the full range of concerns that we and many other countries have with Iran. We continue to believe that a return to mutual compliance with the agreement is in our interest. It’s the best available option to restrict Iran’s nuclear program and to provide a platform to address its other destabilizing activities.

But as I’ve said on a few occasions recently, that possibility of getting back to mutual compliance is not indefinite. And the challenge right now is that with every passing day, as Iran continues to take actions that are not in compliance with the agreement – particularly building larger stockpiles of highly enriched uranium to 20 percent, even to 60 percent, and spinning faster centrifuges – we will get to a point at some point in the future at which simply returning to mutual compliance with the JCPOA will not recapture the benefits of the agreement because Iran will have made too much progress in its program that would not be reversed simply by returning to the terms of JCPOA.

So this is something that our allies and partners also know and agree with. And the question is whether Iran is prepared to come back and engage meaningfully in these talks. We await an answer on that.

And I’m sorry, the second part of your question?

QUESTION: Afghanistan (inaudible).

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Oh, yes. I think there is very strong unity of approach and unity of purpose. And, of course, it’s not just me saying it; it’s reflected in the UN Security Council resolution that was passed just a couple of weeks ago on August 30th. That sets out clearly the expectations of the Security Council when it comes to the Taliban’s conduct going forward: again, on freedom of travel; on making good on commitments to not allow Afghanistan to be used as a launching pad for terrorism; on upholding basic rights, including for women and girls and minorities; allowing and indeed protecting humanitarian assistance; and of course, in having inclusive governance. So that’s in a Security Council resolution.

Beyond that, we’ve had well over a hundred countries making clear the same expectations of the Taliban, and in virtually all of the conversations that I’ve had in different groupings of either individually or in different groupings of countries, including at the Security Council, I think the international community writ large is looking to the Taliban to make good on those commitments.

And so we’ll see. The bottom line is this: again, the Taliban says that it seeks legitimacy, that it seeks support from the international community; the relationship that it has with the international community is going to be defined by the actions it takes. That’s what we’re looking for. And it’s, again, not just us. It’s the Security Council and it’s countries around the world.

MR PRICE: We’ll go to Barbara Usher.

QUESTION: Hello, Mr. Blinken, just a few follow-up questions from some of my colleagues, what some of my colleagues have raised.

In terms of the meeting with the French foreign minister, do you feel now that the crisis is over, if you would call it a crisis – would you? And did you apologize to him?

And then in terms of Haiti, you spoke about understanding the passion of Mr. Foote, understandably, but the message or the statement that was put out seemed to suggest that the proposals he’d made were not good ones, that they were harmful to the promotion of democracy, and basically said he had mischaracterized the circumstances of his resignation. So I thought it was quite a sharply worded statement, actually. I’m wondering if he was seen as some sort of obstacle on the one hand, or, if on the other, if I can say so, he was thrown under a bus. I mean, can you just put some context to that statement? Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Let me take the second part of the question first.

Look, as I said a moment ago, Special Envoy Foote has provided remarkable service to the country in a whole variety of roles. I very much respect and admire the passion that he brought to this latest role, but that does not mean that by definition a particular policy or approach that he may have proposed or supported is necessarily the right one, or that as a result of the process we go through on every policy it was preordained that that would come out in the direction that he proposed or that anyone proposed. So again, I respect – very much respect him, respect his service, respect his passion, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t and won’t disagree on the right approach to take, the right policy to follow. And that’s what this comes down to, and he decided that he would no longer feel comfortable serving in that capacity, and I respect that decision.

With regard to France and to my colleague, Foreign Minister Le Drian, again, I think what I said before is how I see it and how we see it. We have a process decided on, agreed on by President Macron, by President Biden, of in-depth consultations moving forward. We recognize that this is going to take time, it’s going to take hard work, and we need to demonstrate results not just in what we say but in what we do together. I’m very committed to that. I will work closely with Jean-Yves in the days and weeks ahead, and I am convinced that our interests together are so strong, the values that we share so unshakeable, that we will carry forward and get some good work done. But it will take some time and it will take some hard work, and as I said, I’m determined to do it.

MR PRICE: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Thank you, everyone, very much.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you all very much. Enjoy New York.