12/08/2022 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 12/08/2022 13:30
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good morning, everyone. Earlier this morning, I joined President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Cherelle Griner in the Oval Office. Cherelle spoke to her wife, Brittney, who is now on her way back home to the United States after a long, unjust, and wrongful detention. Listening to them connect for the first time since Brittney's been freed was as moving as it was unforgettable. Their strength, their resilience, have been nothing short of inspiring.
Let me just express my own gratitude to the State Department team and to our colleagues across the United States Government who worked tirelessly to secure Brittney Griner's release. I especially want to commend our Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens and his entire team. Roger is actually accompanying Brittney home as we speak. I also extend our thanks to our Emirati friends, who assisted in Brittney's transfer today.
Securing the release of Americans who have been wrongfully detained is a top priority for me as Secretary of State, and it's something that we work on every single day. And so while we're elated at Brittney returning home, we continue to work relentlessly to bring Paul Whelan home as well. Despite our efforts, the Russian Government has not yet been willing to end his wrongful detention. They continue to insist on sham charges of espionage and are treating Paul's case differently. As a result, Paul and his loved ones continue to suffer needlessly and unjustly.
This was not a choice of which American to bring home. The choice was one or none. I wholeheartedly wish that we could have brought Paul home today on the same plane as Brittney, just as, as the time, I wished we could have Brittney and Paul home when we secured the release of Trevor Reed back in April. But we will stay at it. We continue to work with the Whelan family, who've been extraordinarily gracious, and we hold them in our thoughts and prayers always, but especially today. And we will never relent until Paul - and for that matter, every other U.S. national held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad - is free and coming home and joining their families, where they belong.
Now turning to our bilateral and trilateral meetings today, it's a particular pleasure to have my friends Pekka and Tobias here. Foreign Minister Haavisto, Foreign Minister Billström are close colleagues. They themselves are extremely close colleagues, especially in recent months. But we held very productive conversations this morning, both bilaterally and together the three of us.
This is the second time that we've met in the last two weeks. Last week, Tobias and Pekka were with us in Bucharest. In fact, I was sitting next to them at the NATO table for the ministerial meeting that we had, just the latest demonstration that Sweden and Finland are ready to bring their strengths to bear to our Alliance.
As we speak, President Putin is trying to weaponize winter. Russia has destroyed over a third of Ukraine's energy system, plunging its most vulnerable civilians into cold, into darkness as the frigid temperatures set it. Families, the elderly, disabled people, children - all targets. Two weeks ago, doctors in Kyiv were in the middle of preforming open-heart surgery on a 14-year-old boy when Russian missiles knocked out the power, forcing them to continue the operation by the glow of their phones. That is what President Putin's war looks like: A child on an operating table, fighting for his life, while Russian strikes bring death from the skies.
President Putin has failed at defeating Russia - defeating Ukraine on the battlefield. He has failed at his land grabs in the south and east. He's failed at erasing Ukraine's borders, its identity, its people, its resilience. And as Sweden and Finland prepare to join NATO, we know that he's failed at weakening our Alliance. Indeed, he's only made NATO stronger and bigger.
Finland and Sweden fully understand what's at stake for Ukraine, for NATO, for the entire world at this critical moment. They've been partners in maintaining a firm, united response to President Putin's brutal war of aggression against Ukraine. This year, Sweden and Finland have sent well over $1 billion in security, humanitarian, and other assistance to Ukraine. Both recently announced their largest ever packages of military aid. Swedes and Finns have welcomed tens of thousands of displaced Ukrainians into their communities, giving them housing, school access to their kids, opportunities at work for the adults. As EU members, they're joining our partners to level unprecedented sanctions against Russia to curtail its ability to wage this war.
Finland and Sweden are ready to be NATO Allies. Their troops have served shoulder to shoulder with U.S. and NATO forces in Kosovo, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Libya. Both are members of NATO's Partnership for Peace and NATO's Enhanced Opportunity Partnership, meaning, to put it into plain English, that their militaries work nearly seamlessly with Alliance forces.
Finland and Sweden will bolster our Alliance not only through their military capabilities, but also through their values - an abiding commitment to democracy, the rules-based international order, respect for human rights, respect for human dignity.
I'm confident that NATO will formally welcome Finland and Sweden as members soon. Since the NATO Summit in Madrid, both countries have taken significant concrete actions to fulfill their commitments, including those related to the security concerns on the part of our ally Turkey. As their membership process continues, the United States is fully committed to Finland and Sweden's accession. The strength of that support can be seen in our Senate's overwhelming bipartisan vote for their membership, just weeks after their application was submitted.
Of course, the partnership that the United States has with both countries - with Sweden, with Finland - goes well beyond our cooperation on supporting Ukraine or countering Russian's aggression. As trade and economic partners, our countries and businesses are making investments that are expanding opportunity and improving the lives for families on both sides of the Atlantic. As innovation powerhouses, we're collaborating to address some of the most urgent global challenges, like the climate crisis. As leading democracies, we're advancing governance priorities, including freedom of expression, combatting corruption, advancing gender equality around the world.
Our close collaboration on Arctic issues touches on all of these priorities. The United States is an Arctic nation, and therefore we have a profound stake in advancing an Arctic region that is peaceful, stable, prosperous, and cooperative.
Let me just close with a note about our shared history. People from the Nordic countries first came to our shores more than a century before the birth of the United States. Generations followed that journey. Today, roughly 11 million Americans trace their ancestry to Nordic countries. Throughout our histories, the United States has looked to Sweden and Finland not only as partners but as friends. And so Pekka, Tobias - my friends - we're so proud to stand with you as prepare to take the significant step and join us as NATO Allies. Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER HAAVISTO: Thanks, Tony, and thanks for welcoming us so warmly to Washington. It's great to be here again. And also congratulations for bringing your citizen back home.
I really want to thank Secretary Blinken for this excellent bilateral meeting today, as well as for these customs and exchange of views with you, Tony, today together with my Swedish colleague, Minister Billström.
We announced earlier this autumn between Finland and U.S. that we will renegotiate the Defense Cooperation Agreement, DCA. The DCA is a continuation of earlier cooperation between the United States and Finland. The agreement provides a framework for deepening defense cooperation and strengthening the partnership between our two countries.
During our bilateral meeting today, we focused naturally a great deal on the security situation in Europe. We discussed Finland's NATO process, Russia's war against Ukraine, and our support to Ukraine. We emphasized the importance of transatlantic relations. We also had good exchange of views on China.
We are, of course, grateful for the strong support we have received from the United States during our NATO accession process and the first phase of ratifications from member states, including U.S. It's important for us that our accession process - processes continue to advance together with Sweden.
In the NATO foreign minister's meeting in Bucharest, we - together with Sweden - had discussions with both Turkey and Hungary on our membership process. As a future ally, Finland commits to NATO's 360-degree approach to security. We take the security concerns of all Allies seriously. Finland is a security provider whose membership will further strengthen the Alliance as a whole. There's a very strong public support in Finland for our NATO membership, and we hope to finalize the process soon.
And a couple of words about Ukraine and Russia. We discussed also bilaterally Ukraine's immediate and long-term needs. Actually, I had - together with Tobias - a possibility to visit Kyiv one week ago, meeting President Zelenskyy and seeing the destruction caused by Russian bombings, particularly to the electricity network. We are now mobilizing also private sector help to Ukraine.
It's very important that we continue both military and humanitarian and development aid towards Ukraine, and we thank U.S. for very active role on that. Finland continues to support Ukraine as long as necessary. Finland has already decided on 10 defense material assistance packages to Ukraine and is prepared to deliver more. Finland is also ready to participate in Ukraine's reconstruction.
We need to keep up and increase the sanction pressure on Russia, and that has to continue as long as needed. The aggression is illegal, and we have to recognize that. It's important also to continue to coordinate our actions with partners. Important that we counter Russia's false narratives. Russia is spreading disinformation and weaponizing food and energy in order to weaken support to Ukraine.
The manner in which Russia is waging war in Ukraine flagrantly violates international law, deliberately targeting military operations at civilians and civilian targets is a war crime. We must hold Russia accountable for its violations of international law and ensure that there is no impunity for atrocity crimes committed in Ukraine. Russia bears responsibility for the damages caused by its internationally wrongful act in and against Ukraine. Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Tobias.
FOREIGN MINISTER BILLSTRÖM: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary, dear Tony. A warm thanks, first of all, for hosting us here in Washington, D.C. And many congratulations for bringing your citizen successfully back home.
I'm especially delighted that I could pay this visit at an early stage of my tenure. The transatlantic relationship is a top priority for the Swedish Government, and our fruitful discussions today are just one evidence of that.
We are facing the greatest foreign security and defense policy challenges of modern times. If anything, the challenge of today and of tomorrow prove that there is no alternative to cooperation on the strong and close transatlantic relations.
I want to thank you for the United States' deep and determined engagement for European security, for your strong and substantial support to Ukraine, and as well for your staunch support to Sweden's and Finland's decision to join NATO.
Standing here today together with our dear neighbor Finland proves that we are in this together.
Today's discussion have been immensely valuable in both the bilateral and trilateral formats. Naturally, we focused on our NATO accession process, which is progressing well. We are eager to join and to contribute to the security of the entire Alliance. We discussed our individual and joint support for - to Ukraine, which continue unabatedly, as strong as ever.
On our side, the Swedish Government has most recently presented a record-sized winter support package to Ukraine, including both humanitarian and military aid, totaling over $830 million. We stand by Ukraine and we will do everything to help them to win this war with the aim of restoring their territorial integrity. But I would really like, again, to offer my thanks to the American people and to the U.S. Government for all that you are doing for Ukraine, and I would like to encourage our European friends, the member states, to step up to match your endeavors and your efforts.
In our discussions today I also shared Sweden's plans and priorities as incoming presidency of the EU Council on Ukraine, and further EU support to Ukraine will be at the top of our agenda. We will also seek to enhance transatlantic cooperation in many ways during our EU presidency.
Today I am particularly happy and proud to stand here together with you, Pekka and Tony, demonstrating our strong partnership. I look forward to continue working closely with you on our common interests. Thank you.
MR PRICE: We'll now turn to questions, and we'll start with Shannon Crawford of ABC.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. My first question is for all three officials. One - despite NATO's remarkable unity, one member of the Alliance, Turkey, has effectively held the accession process hostage for months now with really no clear sign of letting up. Now, while some of Turkey's demands have been met, the country has yet to even specifically outline its requirements for winning its approval. But meanwhile, the clock is ticking and Secretary General Stoltenberg is warning that the delay could allow for a miscalculation from Moscow. How long can the Alliance afford to wait? And Mr. Secretary, can we expect the U.S. to take a more direct role at any point?
And on the breaking news this morning, of course, the U.S. is preparing to welcome Brittney Griner home. But as you noted, Secretary Blinken, there is another wrongfully detained American that's still in Russia: Paul Whelan. Now, the administration has successfully negotiated two prisoner swaps with Moscow, but Paul has been left out of both. And as you note, that's not for lack of trying on the U.S. side. Do you see any signs of optimism, any reason for hope that Russia might be willing to negotiate and complete a swap for Paul Whelan? And what is the U.S. willing to do to bring him home? Will the U.S. go beyond a one-for-one prisoner swap?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I'm happy to start - first of all, on the NATO question. Look, it's important, first of all, to put this in perspective. When it comes to the accession of new members - in this case, Finland and Sweden - the process has never moved faster. All 30 Allies signed the accession protocols; 28 of the 30, of course, have ratified them, and we are working toward the additional ratifications - Turkey and Hungary. And I am convinced, based on everything I know, that we will soon be able to call both countries formally our allies.
I've got to say I'm further convinced of that by my own recent visit to Bucharest, where we were all around the same table. As it happens, I sat next to both of our colleagues there. Finland and Sweden are already integrating into our work. And as I mentioned as well, there can be no doubt on anyone's part that they are ready today to be formal members of the Alliance. Our own Senate agreed to their membership mere weeks after their application, and there is overwhelming support in Congress for that. I know that both of my friends will have or will spend some time with Congress.
Turkey has raised important security concerns in this process, and the process is being used effectively and productively to address those concerns. And I won't speak for either of my colleagues on that, except to say, as we've observed it, what both countries have done in engaging with Turkey and with NATO itself has been to address those concerns in tangible ways. And we've seen these countries take tangible steps to, again, address the concerns that Turkey has raised.
So I'm confident that this is moving forward, it's moving forward in a process that is appropriate, and that we will soon welcome them as members. But let me turn to each of you, and I'll come back to the second part of your question.
FOREIGN MINISTER HAAVISTO: Thank you, an excellent question. And we already established this tripartite working group in Madrid NATO Summit. This working group has been meeting on the expert level, one time in Stockholm, one time in Helsinki. Those meetings have been very good and issues have been clarified regarding Turkish concern on the terrorism. PKK as an organization is forbidden organization in the whole Europe, including Finland and Sweden, and so forth. So those issues that are mentioned in the memorandum, tripartite memorandum, are very much fulfilled. Our minister of defense has just visited Ankara during these days, yesterday and today, and so forth, so this - also the bilateral cooperation has been ongoing.
Of course, what we are still missing is the clear date and clear plan of the Turkish parliament to deal with this issue. And we know that Turkey is going to the elections. Of course, our hope is that this decision should come from Turkey rather sooner than later.
We had an announcement in Bucharest during the Bucharest meeting from Hungary that they are ready to ratify in the beginning of February, and of course we hope that this will be the timetable that both of our countries could come as members, full members of NATO.
FOREIGN MINISTER BILLSTRÖM: Thank you very much. I could make it easy, yes, by standing by what Pekka has just said, but I would like to make a few additions of my own. Yes, as the Secretary said, we are addressing the concerns raised by Turkey within the memorandum, the trilateral memorandum signed at the Madrid Summit, and we are doing it step by step with the contents, but it has to be understood as well that the fulfillment of a memorandum has to take place within the framework of the constitution that we have in Sweden, the legislation, and basic principles of the rules of law. And this is something which the Turkish Government is well aware of.
But within those limits, everything will be fulfilled. That is written down in the memorandum by all the three parties. And I myself am soon going to Ankara to continue the discussions with my Turkish and - my and Pekka's Turkish colleague on the spot, and I hope that the outcome of that discussion will also bring us forward. A constant dialogue between the governments, between the authorities in the various countries, is also important to underline as a part of the fulfillment of the memorandum. Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: And on the second part of the question, with regard to Paul Whelan, first, back in July I made public what had been going on in private for some time: persistent efforts to secure the release of both Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan. I spoke directly to Foreign Minister Lavrov at the time. We've had numerous engagements ever since on the basis of the substantial proposal that we had put on the table, and then different permutations as we worked back and forth with the Russians. The presidents had established a channel to do this; we've been engaged in it ever since.
We followed up on the initial proposal, as I said, looking at different ways to get this done. And by "get this done," I mean bring both Brittney and Paul home. And as I said a few moments ago, this was not a choice about which American to bring home. The choice was, in this instance, one or none. Because, unfortunately, Russia has continued to see Paul's case through the lens of sham espionage charges and they are treating him differently than they treated Brittney Griner. We've made every possible offer available to us thus far to secure Paul's release, but in this moment, there was no way to bring him home along with Brittney.
Again, this was the same situation that we faced back in April. We got Trevor Reed home. We wanted to bring Brittney and Paul home at the same time. In that moment we were not able to do so; in this moment we were not able to secure Paul's release. But going forward, we remain absolutely determined to do that and we will continue to engage the Russians on Paul and we'll continue to look at everything possible to bring him home.
But again, we didn't want to lose the opportunity today to secure the release of one of them. We've had the opportunity to speak directly to Paul Whelan over the last 24 hours, and let me simply say that he's extraordinarily gracious as well as being extraordinarily courageous. We've spoken to his family. We'll continue to do that and we'll continue to work very closely with them in the effort that will not cease until Paul is home.
MR PRICE: Iida Tikka of Yle News, Finland.
QUESTION: Thank you. A little follow-up on the NATO accession talks question. Publicly the U.S. has stayed seemingly on the sidelines of these talks between Finland, Sweden, and Turkey. Is this image still correct, and why is the U.S. not taking more active role? Is this because of lack of will or political clout?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: This is and has been from the start a process, and it's a process that every prospective member of NATO goes through and a process, as I said, that has actually worked so far at record speed. We've never seen a process move this quickly when it comes to the accession of new members. And as I noted a few moments ago, as I said, all 30 have signed the protocols; 28 have ratified, and two are left to ratify.
In the context of this process, Turkey has raised concerns, and concerns that are best addressed directly by Finland and Sweden with NATO's assistance as necessary. And as you've heard from both of my colleagues, they've had a - I think what's been a very good and productive process working directly with Turkey to try to address the concerns that resulted in a memorandum of understanding that is being implemented, and concrete steps have been taken by Sweden and by Finland to make good on the commitments that they've undertaken in this process. All of that is moving forward. And again, I have every expectation that both will formally become members soon.
As for the United States, like every Ally, we have a strong stake in the membership process being completed and both countries formally joining the Alliance. We know the contributions that they can make, and those contributions could not be more important at a time when we have a variety of challenges. And that's strongly the opinion of the United States, one that we've expressed to all of our Allies, including to Turkey, over these weeks and months. It's also very strongly the opinion of the United States Congress, and it has spoken out vocally on that as well.
But again, it's our expectation that the process continues to move forward, that it's moving forward in a deliberate and appropriate way, and that it will come to a conclusion soon.
MR PRICE: And finally, Cecilia Khavar of Swedish radio.
QUESTION: Thank you so much for this opportunity. And Mr. Secretary, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg recently stated that Sweden and Finland have fulfilled their end of the deal in this process with Turkey, and we heard you just say that Sweden and Finland have taken significant steps. But what's your view on that? Has Sweden, more specifically now, fulfilled its end of the deal?
And with regard to what my colleague asked as well, you say it's a matter of Sweden and Finland to discuss directly with Turkey, but what concrete steps have you and your government taken to try and help convince Turkey to accept Sweden and Finland without delay?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Again, this is not a bilateral issue between the United States and Turkey and it's not going to turn into one. This is a matter of having a process for the entire Alliance for new members to come in. As part of that process, one of the members has raised concerns that are being addressed directly by that country and the prospective new members.
What is clear - again, as I said - is that there is overwhelming support in the United States, not just from the President and the Executive Branch but from our Congress, when it comes to Sweden and Finland becoming members and becoming members as quickly as the process can move. We've made that point as a NATO Ally to the Turks and we've noted publicly the readiness of both Sweden and Finland to become members now.
We also acknowledge Turkey's legitimate security concerns. We have from day one. There are more terrorist attacks on Turkish soil than on the soil of any other NATO Ally.
But we also very much appreciate and acknowledge the tangible steps that both Finland and Sweden have taken, already taken, including substantially strengthening the bilateral cooperation with Turkey on their key security concerns. But this is a process that is moving forward. It's moving forward because of the very important work that both of our soon-to-be allies have done with Turkey, and I have every expectation that that process will continue and be brought to a successful conclusion soon.
QUESTION: So you don't agree with Jens Stoltenberg about - that Sweden has fulfilled their end of the deal?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Again, they have a memorandum of understanding. Very tangible steps have been taken to implement it, and we will let them continue that process with Turkey.
MR PRICE: Thank you very much, gentlemen. Thank you very much.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you, everyone. Thank you.