U.S. Department of State

04/02/2024 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 04/02/2024 13:16

Secretary Antony J. Blinken And French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné At a Joint Press Availability

FOREIGN MINISTER SÈJOURNÈ: (Via interpreter) Good afternoon to all of you. Dear Antony, it gives me great pleasure to receive you here in Paris. As you know, France is deeply attached to the Alliance that unites it to the United States of America within the framework of NATO, as we're celebrating its 75th anniversary as well as in the context of our bilateral relations. For some two and a half centuries, we've always stood together in all of France with the United States of America for freedom.

The United States knows what it owes France, but I can tell you very concretely that we in France here - France knows as well what it owes the United States in its history. In this year of the 80th anniversary of D-Day, we will have other opportunities to say it forcefully, to celebrate the friendship between the United States and France on the 8th of June. And it is also this sort of spirit of freedom that drives us and that led us to support Ukraine together.

As you know, ladies and gentlemen, for two years now Russia has been waging an unjustifiable aggression against a free and sovereign country. And not content with oppressing his own people, Vladimir Putin is trying to subjugate the Ukrainian people. But there are two obstacles that have been preventing him from doing so for two years now and which are making his war a failure for Russia - first of all, the bravery of the Ukrainians who for two years have been fighting the massive assaults of the Russian armies. And today, although Ukraine certainly did not seek this war - they have done everything to avoid it as a matter fact, and they still intend to fight it. This fight is one of self-defense, which is guaranteed by the UN Charter. It is a just struggle.

On the occasion of the meeting of NATO - the ministerial meeting tomorrow in Brussels - we shall yet again intensify our support to Kyiv and send across a clear signal of our determination. The conference held in Paris on the 26th of February was a clear step to that effect, and we're concretely implementing the decisions taken within the context of a number of coalitions that covered the needs of Ukraine. Together with the United States, dear Antony, we are co-chairing the coalition on artillery, within the framework of which we are implementing part of our initiatives.

In order to weaken the support of Russia - and I said it on many occasions here on press conferences, Russia is resorting to lies and to manipulating our public opinions. Russia finances interferences, and also is promoting false media. It accuses Ukraine and Europe of crimes committed by others, recently Daesh. And it is a crude way of concealing the fact that Russia has chosen the wrong enemy by ignoring Islamic terrorism on its territory.

And we in Europe will be determined to fight this propaganda. France will soon be proposing a regime of sanctions, dedicated to those who support Russian companies of disinformation, destabilization of our country and of the whole European continent. It is a French proposal supported and implemented by the 27 member states.

Dear Antony, we talked about the Middle East, and please allow me, first and foremost, to express our firm condemnation of the Israeli strike that led to the death of seven humanitarian personnel of the NGO World Central Kitchen. The protection - the situation - humanitarian situation is disastrous and is worsening day after day, and nothing justifies such a tragedy. In this context, all decisions taken by the Security Council shall be implemented, including Resolution 2728. And what does it say? Well, it says that all hostages must be released immediately and without conditions; that all civilians must be protected; and that massive humanitarian aid should be delivered.

And in this context, I had a chance to present the French initiatives of the Security Council to the secretary - general secretary. We need to work on a two-state solution, based on just and sustainable peace between Israel and Palestine, based on security guarantees on both sides. And I have found discussions to be constructive. And over the next few weeks, I will continue to work and advocate all of this with all the stakeholders in the region and the permanent members of the Security Council.

We shall also avoid any regional escalation. I have in mind Lebanon. France made proposals that were favorably received by our Lebanese partners. And I will continue to talk to all interested stakeholders, and all stakeholders shall prevent any escalation.

We also talked about the war in Sudan. This is one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. And on the 15th of April, we will organize a large humanitarian conference in Paris co-chaired by France, Germany, and the European Union. We need to mobilize in order to work on this major crisis which is being forgotten by the media and the political leaders. And I know I can count on you and on the United States, dear Antony, to promote, make sure that this conference is a success for the people in need.

Lastly, we talked about Armenia's territorial integrity, which is being challenged by Azerbaijan today. And let me tell you how worried we are given the fact that the rhetoric of Azerbaijan is getting out of hand. And we see an increasing number of fake news as well coming from Baku, and they tend to blame Armenia for the responsibility of an escalation, even though Armenia is probably the only one willing and trying to avoid it in this part of the world. And I can see in all of this propaganda many common elements if you look at what is - Russia is imposing on Ukraine. And dear Antony, I think we shall pay extreme attention to that six months ahead of COP29 in Baku.

Dear Secretary of State, this is a short introduction. I'm looking forward to further discussing these matters in Brussels and in the coming weeks. There is so much we still need to do so that the values which - founding values for both our countries can prevail around the world. Dear Antony, thank you for these discussions. I'll now leave you the floor, and once again, thank you very much for the quality of our discussions.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via interpreter) I am truly delighted, as ever, to be in Paris. And Stéphane, I would like to thank you for this warm welcome, and indeed for this important conversation and, I do believe, quite constructive. If I may be allowed I'll continue in English for my colleagues.

(In English) And as I just said, it's always wonderful to be back in Paris. But I especially wanted to thank my colleague and friend, Stéphane, for the incredibly warm welcome, but also the quality of the conversation that we had. He covered most of what we've talked about; let me just add a couple of quick points of emphasis.

On Ukraine, we discussed the imperative of continuing to support Ukraine so that it can effectively defend itself against the ongoing Russian aggression. That's for today. But also to make sure, through the work that we're doing, to help Ukraine build a strong military for the future, to attract private sector investment so that it builds up its economy, and to continue to strengthen its democracy - in particular by moving down the accession path toward the EU - we are ensuring that we will have a Ukraine that stands strongly on its own feet, militarily, economically, democratically. And that's the single best response to Putin's aggression.

France has been a remarkable leader in this effort, both in making sure that Ukraine has what it needs to defend itself and also working to set it up for the long term. It's been a leader in burden sharing - billions donated in military and economic assistance to Ukraine - but also rallying other countries, using its leadership to bring others along. We also see this leadership in the enforcement of sanctions and export controls to limit Putin's war machine. We are working day in, day out to effectively prevent the transfer of weapons and materiels to Russia to fuel that war machine, to fuel its defense industrial base, including from Iran, from North Korea, and from China - something that we discussed today.

This is not only a threat to Ukraine; it's actually a threat to European security as a whole. And so there's a strong interest on the part of France, on the part of all European countries to do everything we can to prevent the ongoing bolstering of Russia's war machine. Part of our shared challenge, too, is making sure that we are continuing to build up and energize our defense industrial base. Earlier today I had a chance to tour a factory where munitions are being produced. These munitions - French munitions, American munitions, munitions coming from other parts of Europe and well beyond - have been absolutely essential in ensuring that Ukraine could stand up against the Russian onslaught. We have to build a stronger allied defense industrial base that's capable of meeting the challenges of today, but also future challenges.

And that's also one of the reasons why it is essential that the United States Congress pass President Biden's supplemental budget request as soon as possible, indeed when it returns from its recess. That would further turbocharge our own defense industrial base while creating more good jobs in the United States.

As Stéphane said, we also spent some time talking about the Middle East. We've been grateful for France's partnership on the crisis of the Middle East, and indeed working together to prevent the conflict that we see in Gaza from spreading to other parts of the region. Both of us agree on the need to get to the quickest possible ceasefire, to allow the release of hostages, to enable the surge and sustainment of humanitarian assistance.

As I mentioned, we're coordinating closely when it comes to Lebanon and trying to prevent any spread of the conflict there, finding a diplomatic way forward. We're also working together on creating a path to a more durable and lasting peace, with security guarantees and political guarantees for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Let me also reiterate what Stéphane said about the attack on the World Food Kitchen members - World Central Kitchen, excuse me. First, I can only say that for so many of us we send our condolences to the loved ones, to the families, the friends, the colleagues of those who lost their lives as well as those who were injured. I spoke to José Andrés just about a week ago about the efforts that World Central Kitchen is engaged in Gaza, as it is in many other conflict zones around the world, including in Ukraine. They have been doing extraordinary, brave work, day in, day out, and critical work to try to make sure that people in need get what they need, starting with the most basic thing of all - food to survive.

The victims of yesterday's strike join a record number of humanitarian workers who have been killed in this particular conflict. These people are heroes. They run into the fire, not away from it. They show the best of what humanity has to offer when the going really gets tough. They have to be protected. We shouldn't have a situation where people who are simply trying to help their fellow human beings are themselves at grave risk.

We've spoken directly to the Israeli Government about this particular incident. We've urged a swift, a thorough, an impartial investigation to understand exactly what happened. And as we have throughout this conflict, we've impressed upon the Israelis the absolute imperative of doing more to protect innocent civilian lives, be they Palestinian children, women, and men or be they aid workers, as well as to get more humanitarian assistance to more people, more effectively.

Finally, let me just say that, as you heard from Stéphane, we touched on a number of other issues. I think what we see is an extraordinary convergence between France and the United States on the major challenges of our time.

We're cooperating together to try to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific. That means a region where countries are free to choose their own path and their own partners; where problems are dealt with openly; where rules are reached transparently and applied fairly; where goods, ideas, people flow freely and lawfully. We're proud partners in the Paris climate summit, including joint efforts to advance civil nuclear energy as a greener alternative.

Finally, let me just say how grateful we are as well to President Macron for his longstanding leadership on some of the most important, cutting-edge issues of the day; for example, all of the issues attendant to cyberspace, uniting governments, the private sector, civil society around rules of the road that reflect our shared values and our shared interests.

It is, I think, very fitting that we are celebrating two landmark anniversaries this year: the 80th anniversary of the liberation that Stéphane alluded to, as well as the 75th anniversary of NATO, the Alliance - the defensive alliance - that joins us together. In fact, the 80th anniversary of the liberation is a good reminder of why we decided a few years after the end of World War II to come together in that defensive alliance to help ensure that something like World War II would never happen again, to make clear that countries in the transatlantic space would look out for each other, have each other's backs, and in so doing make it less likely that aggression would occur.

So there's a lot to look forward to in the weeks and months ahead, even as we deal with the challenges of this moment. And I look forward to being back in France to do that. Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER SÉJOURNÉ: Thank you.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) One question per media, please.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

MODERATOR: Could you please stand up, please?

QUESTION: Of course. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Don't drop the laptop, John.

QUESTION: Sorry about this. (Laughter.) Very, very disorganized over here. (Laughter.) Mr. Secretary, as the leader of the U.S. department that has approved the transfer of the vast majority of the Israeli bombs dropped in this conflict, do events like the bombing of the World Central Kitchen convoy give you pause about continuing the flood of U.S. weapons into Israel?

And a second question for both of you, Secretary Blinken and Minister Séjourné. There has been a rise of Ukrainian strikes on Russian oil refineries. The West is fairly united in saying these strikes are justified. Do you think hitting these facilities is the right strategic approach for Ukraine?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: (In French.)

FOREIGN MINISTER SÉJOURNÉ: (In French.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you, John. Let me take the second question first. It has been our view and policy from day one when it comes to Ukraine to do everything we possibly can to help Ukraine defend itself against this Russian aggression. At the same time, we have neither supported nor enabled strikes by Ukraine outside of its territory.

With regard to arms transfers, look, I think it's very important to put this in its proper perspective and to understand what we're talking about. First, we have a longstanding commitment to Israel's security and to helping ensure its ability to defend itself. That's been a policy from administration to administration - Republican, Democrat, back and forth. And indeed, that policy, developed over many years, developed into successive agreements between the United States and Israel - long duration agreements, 10 years in this case, to provide military assistance over that timeframe to about $3 billion a year. That's the system that's in place, and it's long been in place.

These arms transfers, every single one, happens consistent with statutory and policy requirements. That includes both informal and formal notifications to Congress, and it's what we do with every country with whom we have a defense relationship that involves the sale or transfer of arms.

Now, the other important piece of context is this: With Israel - and this is also true of other countries - there are a number of open cases, open requests of previously notified cases which has not been fully fulfilled or completed. In the case of Israel, for example, there are many requests that were made and were notified to Congress and agreed to that go back a decade or more. And it takes time, often, to produce the materiel or the weapons in question, the parts, et cetera. These complex systems, simply put, can take years to actually allow us to fulfill the request and the agreement.

So many of the cases that you occasionally report on now underwent congressional review years ago and were notified years ago, well before the conflict in Gaza started.

QUESTION: Isn't that more of a problem, though? Because they were approved in a non-wartime context, but Congress never had a chance to -

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Let me come - let me come to that, because again, all of this context is very, very important. We, of course, also go out of our way to make sure that we're actually going above and beyond the law and what's required in briefing Congress. We go to the relevant oversight committees. We make sure that they're aware of ongoing transfers above the statutory threshold, even ones that they've approved a long time ago and even when there's no requirement that there be additional notice or additional approval of any kind.

Now, we've been focused on trying to make sure that October 7th can never happen again. But having said that, the security relationship we have with Israel is not just about Gaza, Hamas, October 7th. It's also about the threats posed to Israel by Hizballah, by Iran, by various other actors in the region, each one of which has vowed one way or another to try to destroy Israel.

So the weapons, the systems that Israel has sought to acquire - and as I said, have been contracted in many cases over many, many years - go to self-defense. They go to deterrence, trying to avoid more conflicts. They go to replenishment of their supplies and their stocks.

So that's the system that's in place, has been in place for a long time, and one that continues.

Now, as to the conflict in Gaza, from day one, we have worked to impress upon Israel the imperative of protecting civilians, of adhering fully to international humanitarian law, to the law of armed conflict. That is something that we are looking at and review on a regular basis, and that we're engaged with Israel on on a regular basis, including as recently as yesterday when we met with - by video with the Israeli delegation.

FOREIGN MINISTER SÉJOURNÉ: (Via interpreter) Thank you. I will be quite clear and direct as to the strikes by Ukraine against Russian refineries. This brings almost no comment on our behalf. The Ukrainian people is acting in self-defense, and we consider that Russia is the aggressor. And in such circumstances, there is hardly anything to - anything else to say. I think you understood me.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) A question from the French press.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Good afternoon. Delphine Touitou, AFP. I have a question regarding the Israeli strike on the consulate - question for both of you. So about this strike by Israel on Iran's consulate in Damascus. I'd like to know whether you fear any escalation in the region. And a follow-up question. Given what happened in Gaza recently, did Israel go beyond some red lines? And what would be the red lines in Gaza or elsewhere as to the way Israel is behaving at the moment?

FOREIGN MINISTER SÈJOURNÈ: (Via interpreter) Let me start. To be extremely clear, the whole purpose of our action from the very beginning - and I believe the Secretary of State is in the same mindset - it is all about preventing escalation. That's the whole purpose of our action. And there are a number of stakeholders who obviously are trying to expand the conflict in the north of Israel and in the Red Sea. We talked about it, and we already made comments on that here - the strikes against the United States in Syria and Iraq or elsewhere. So the escalation is entirely their responsibility, so I need not qualify things, but I need to tell you that the whole purpose of our action is to prevent this escalation. And we will accordingly not comment on what happened.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via interpreter) I can only say the same thing. We follow the same approach. We're working very closely together to avoid an escalation, be it in Lebanon, in Iraq, or in Syria; or be it in the Red Sea, or in Yemen, et cetera. And with respect to the strikes in Syria, we are trying to ascertain the facts. We are in the process of learning exactly what happened, and we are continuing to work to understand the details. But we are working everyday together - France and the United States, especially in Lebanon - to avoid that there be a conflict between the parties, a conflict about which we are convinced neither the Israelis, neither Hizballah, neither Lebanon want, or neither Iran.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) One more question from the American press.

QUESTION: Thank you. Hi. Simon Lewis from Reuters. I just firstly wanted to come back to the issue of the World Central Kitchen workers, the seven workers who were killed by an Israeli strike. I had the honor of actually knowing one of them, "Zomi" Frankcom, and I can testify to her zest for life, kindness, and selflessness that we could see in the work that she was doing. This morning I've seen an image of her Australian passport covered in blood. It's quite striking.

Secretary Blinken, you've been warning for several months about the need for more humanitarian aid to get into Gaza. You recently talked about the near-famine conditions there. This is the reason why these world food - World Central Kitchen workers were there. You've called for an investigation. But this isn't the first time that aid convoys have been hit. This isn't the first time that the Israelis have been taking action that's restricted aid both going into the Gaza strip and being distributed. So I really wanted to ask: Are you going to do more if this continues - this has continued for months. Is there more that you can do than simply raise these issues with the Israelis? And if their investigation comes back with certain findings, is there some action the United States as the main backer of Israel is going to take regarding that?

And secondly, France has proposed a new UN Security Council resolution on Gaza that goes further than the one that the U.S. abstained on last month. It calls for decisive and irreversible measures taken by parties towards a two-state solution. Secretary Blinken, you've called for a pathway to a two-state solution, a Palestinian state. So will you support such a resolution? And to the foreign minister, regarding that resolution, have - are you assured of having U.S. support for that? The U.S. has used its veto several times since October to block resolutions on Gaza, so would you call on Secretary Blinken to not use the veto in this case? Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Simon, with regard to humanitarian assistance, going back to the very first trip that I made to Israel after October 7th - a few days later - and every trip subsequent to that, I and many others, starting with President Biden, have worked to impress upon Israel the moral, the strategic, the legal imperative of doing everything possible to provide humanitarian assistance to people who need it.

And, of course, we've seen Israel take important steps over the last six or so months, whether it was opening Kerem Shalom, whether it was actually starting by opening the Rafah crossing to begin to allow assistance in - Kerem Shalom; guaranteed fuel deliveries, flour through the Ashdod Port; opening a new gate, 96 gate, just a couple of weeks ago; now the maritime corridor that many of us are working to establish - they've taken steps. But it is, simply put, insufficient. It is not enough to meet the needs of the children, the women, the men in Gaza who remain caught in a horrific crossfire of Hamas's making.

So in our conversations with the Israeli Government, including just last week when the defense minister was in Washington and just yesterday when we were on a video conference with Israeli counterparts, we impressed again upon them the imperative of now surging and sustaining assistance, and not only getting it into Gaza but, within Gaza, getting it to everyone who needs it, including in the north, where, as you know, the conditions are the most challenged and where World Central Kitchen was laboring to get assistance to people. So we and many others, including France, are intensely focused on this, and we are looking very carefully to see that necessary steps are taken to ensure that the assistance needed gets in and gets to people who need it.

This also involves issues like much better coordination on the ground. We'll see what the investigation of the incident with World Central Kitchen reveals. But coordination has been a perennial problem, deconfliction, as well as other challenges - destroyed roads, lack of trucks within Gaza, things of that nature that have to be remedied, as well as the access points into Gaza. Having said all of that, I'm not going to get into hypotheticals or get ahead of myself or get ahead of the administration. All I can tell you is this is an area of intense focus and absolute necessity.

When it comes to the Security Council, France and the United States have worked very closely together as permanent members on pretty much every issue that comes before the council, including this one. And I look forward in the days and weeks ahead to talking about the current effort, other efforts that may come forward. We share the same objectives. I think - based on my conversations with Stéphane, I think we both agree that getting an immediate ceasefire to enable the release of hostages and the surging of humanitarian assistance would be the best next step that we could have to actually really change things on the ground. So we want to make sure that we're maximizing the efforts to do that. Negotiations with regard to ceasefire and hostages are ongoing.

We also agree that we have to find a path to a durable, lasting peace for Palestinians and Israelis alike. And we both agree that, ultimately, that has to include the establishment of a Palestinian state with necessary security guarantees for Israel. So we're aligned on the fundamentals, and we'll be talking in the days and weeks ahead about any of the measures that are before the council.

FOREIGN MINISTER SÉJOURNÉ: (Via interpreter) As far as we're concerned, we already a week ago commended the adoption of the resolution. And we, as a matter of fact, are calling on all parties to comply with its content. Otherwise there is no international law anymore and no multilateral solution. France, like you said, is also working on an initiative at the Security Council. Together with its partners, including the United States, we're working on the parameters of the - how to exit the crisis, including the political parameters. Of course they have been discussed in different fora within a number of diplomatic circles. We are working on a two-state solution, all the different possibilities of what could lead to an end to this political crisis with a ceasefire and the arrival of humanitarian assistance, and a political architecture that would enable to have security on both sides.

We also, together with the Secretary of State, talked of - about another point, and that was the purpose of my visit to Cairo on Saturday, where I met my Egyptian and Jordanian counterparts - and in Guyana as well. We talked about the parameters and how to exit this crisis. And we'll continue to talk to all the members of the Security Council and, more broadly, to the countries of the region, and we have the intuition, the feeling that we can find a consensus as broad as possible for a sustainable way out of this crisis. And this will require the adoption of a new resolution. If there can be - there shall be another way, and there will be, but such is what - this is what France is working on.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) One last question on behalf of the French press.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Thank you. Phillipe Ricard, Le Monde. About Ukraine, I'd like to know whether France and the United States now agree on the possibility of Ukraine at some point joining NATO. Of course that will be discussed in July at the NATO summit. And a question on Iran regarding Ukraine. Did you - we feel there is an increasing - an increased - there's some increased concerns about the delivery of weapons by Iran. Do you have any information on that?

FOREIGN MINISTER SÉJOURNÉ: (Via interpreter) Like we said on the occasion of the summit in Vilnius, I believe the member-states of NATO share the same point of view. We are supporting the reforms undertaken by Ukraine in order to join NATO, and we shall work in order to prepare this NATO summit, which will be a summit of unity. This is important, and both France and the United States and - are attached to this unity on that point. So in the coming hours, in the coming weeks, I believe we will be confirming this unity, and we shall stick to the Vilnius formula, I believe.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via interpreter) Yes, indeed, we did talk about the NATO summit and Ukraine, and we'll talk about it much - in much greater detail in the coming days in Brussels during the NATO foreign ministers meeting. As the Allies stated in Vilnius, Ukraine will be a member of NATO. For us, the issue is having a good and clear roadmap to reach this conclusion. And I believe that the NATO summit for the 75th anniversary will indeed be highly focused, and quite concretely, as to how we can establish this roadmap. Or to use another image, the bridge - the necessary bridge to allow Ukraine to become a member of NATO.

And with respect to Iranian missiles, which are being sent to Russia and are being used against the Ukrainian people, indeed we did mention it. We are working together to try to interrupt, at least penalize, any support of this nature, be it from Iran, North Korea, or elsewhere, including China. And this is also something that will be mentioned probably with our NATO colleagues in the coming days.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Thank you, ministers. This was the last question of this press conference. Thank you for attending. Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Merci.