Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Nadia Bilbassy of Al Arabiya
ANTONY J. BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE
JANUARY 29, 2023
QUESTION: (In Arabic.) Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for giving us this exclusive interview. We appreciate your time.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s very good to be with you.
QUESTION: I wanted to start with Iran. The administration said that this is not the right time to go back to the JCPOA. Your President described it as dead. Yet, you don’t prefer the military option. How can you stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: First, Iran had an opportunity to get back into the JCPOA at the end of this past summer. Unfortunately, they rejected what was on the table and had been agreed to by everybody. Their either wouldn’t move forward with it. Now our focus is on the many things that have happened since, including the horrific repression of the Iranian people on the streets of Iran as young people, women in particular, have been standing up for their basic rights, and very important communities across Iranian society are doing the same thing and are being repressed violently by the regime.
At the same time, we’re also seeing Iran support Russia in its war of aggression against Ukraine, providing it with drones and potentially other weapons systems. So that’s where the focus is and that’s the concern of many countries around the world.
At the same time, yes, we continue to believe that the most effective way to deal with the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program is through diplomacy. Diplomacy is never off the table. But President Biden has also made clear that we’re determined that Iran not acquire a nuclear weapon, and every option remains on the table to ensure that that doesn’t happen. But our preferred path would be diplomacy.
QUESTION: Including military option?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Everything is on the table.
QUESTION: You talked about the regime. The regime has been executing demonstrators after a sham trial. How can you support people who have been calling for help actually from the West and particularly from the United States?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We have been, with many other countries, standing up and speaking out for those who are simply trying to have their voices heard and their rights upheld. We’ve gone after those who have been involved in repressing them, and through sanctions, through designating them in various ways. We’ve sought to help the Iranian people be able to continue to communicate with each other as well as with the rest of the world through communications technology. And of course, we continue to look for ways to disrupt the malicious activities that they’re engaged in.
But I think there’s tremendous solidarity around the world with the Iranian people, who are simply trying to have their basic rights respected by the regime.
QUESTION: So is this military maneuvering or exercise with the Israelis and other people in the Gulf meant to deter Iran activities in the region?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: All of our military efforts are designed with the idea of deterrence in mind – that is, to try to make sure that a would-be aggressor thinks twice, thinks three times, and then doesn’t do it. That’s what deterrence is all about. And it’s important to be able to demonstrate that and to make sure that you’re ready if aggression comes. And if deterrence doesn’t work, that you’re also in a position to effectively defend yourself.
QUESTION: The United States always support people who want to change the regime that oppresses them. Why not the case with Iran?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We support the Iranian people, but these decisions are theirs. They’re not ours. They’re not anyone else’s. One of the things that we don’t want to do is to somehow make this about us. That’s exactly what the Iranian regime wants. They want to say to their own people, “Oh, no, this is somehow the work, the design of some outside power,” the United States or someone else. It’s not. It reflects a profound misunderstanding of their own people if they believe that somehow we’re responsible for this, and it reflects a profound weakness. They’re afraid of their own people.
QUESTION: I want to move to Saudi Arabia. How would you describe the relationship with Saudi Arabia after the OPEC production decision, et cetera, and your threat actually to review the relationship with Riyadh?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We’ve had a relationship – an important relationship with Saudi Arabia for decades, for generations, across administrations in our own country and across leaders in Saudi Arabia. It’s one that evolves. And from our perspective, the important thing to do is to make sure that that relationship fully reflects our own interests and values, and that is something that’s not static. It’s constantly evolving.
We had the concerns that we expressed about the OPEC+ decision back in October. I think since then we’ve seen Saudi Arabia do some very positive things – for example, providing very significant support, humanitarian support to Ukraine in the face of this Russian aggression; voting for the – in effect – for the UN Charter at the United Nations against the Russian aggression; the work that we’re doing together to try to end the war in Yemen, one of the worst humanitarian situations in the world. That’s very significant, but it’s something that will constantly evolve and we’ll constantly be looking at to make sure that it effectively represents and advances our own interests.
QUESTION: So many issues in the region. Iraq. We have a new prime minister, Mr. Sudani. How can you help him if you want to undermine Iran influence in Iraq? How can the U.S. —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I’ve spoken with Prime Minister Sudani and we’re very much engaged with the Iraqi Government. I think there are two things that are important. First, of course, is an enduring partnership to continue to deal with Daesh as necessary to make sure that it cannot engage in actions that kill innocent people. And we remain very engaged in supporting the Iraqi Security Forces and making sure that they have the means to take on what remains of Daesh and to make sure that it can’t rebound.
But we also have a much broader partnership with Iraq, and we have a Strategic Framework Agreement with Iraq that we’re implementing – working on, for example, on trying to help Iraq further develop its economy. That’s something we take very seriously. We want to see this comprehensive framework that we’ve established actually take – have real meaning, and hopefully help to improve the lives of the Iraqi people.
I also think it’s very important that Iraq continue to be fully reintegrated into the larger Arab community, and that we see countries playing very important roles in leading that effort, including Egypt.
QUESTION: Sure. And on Libya, do you see two governments in Tripoli and Benghazi? Would you support one unified government?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: What we support at this point is the need to get to an election so that there can be a clear and legitimate government that reflects the Libyan people. And that’s clearly what the Libyan people want. So the special representative of the secretary-general of the United Nations has a plan to try to move to an election at the earliest possible moment. That’s the most critical next step. That’s how you get, finally, unity in the country and a government that’s clearly legitimate and responsive to what the people want.
QUESTION: And finally, I think my time is up, but I want to ask you about the – Türkiye and Palestine. On Türkiye, do you support their incursion in northern Syria? And how do you see this rapprochement between the Turks and others towards Assad regime?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So two things. When it comes to northern Syria, we’ve urged everyone to try to calm the waters. And what we don’t need, I don’t think what anyone needs is a military incursion in northern Syria. That risks, of course, doing tremendous damage to civilians and innocent people. It actually potentially would disrupt the efforts to continue to keep Daesh at bay and take the focus off of that, where it needs to be. And so it’s not, frankly, in anyone’s interests.
Türkiye has legitimate security interests. There’s no disputing that. But those interests can be dealt with effectively without, I think, a military intervention.
QUESTION: And the Assad regime?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: And when it comes to the Assad regime, look, we’re very clear. We don’t support normalization. The challenge is this: The United Nations has proposed a process, a step-by-step process leading to the implementation of the relevant UN Security Council resolutions, a political way forward. We support that. Unfortunately, the Assad regime does not and has refused to engage in that process. Unless and until it does, it’s very hard to see how you can move forward.
QUESTION: Finally, you’re going to Ramallah and Jerusalem. How can you defuse the tension? Do you fear a third intifada? How can you activate a meaningful meaning of the two-state solution?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Look, I’ll have more to say about that in the next couple of days when we go there. I think we’ve seen horrific terrorist attacks in the last couple of days that we condemn and deplore. President Biden has spoken to this. We also see civilian loss of life that is very deeply disturbing. And the most important thing in the near term is to try to get some calm. But I’ll have more to say to that in the next couple of days. I want the chance to speak to the Israeli Government, to the Palestinian Authority leadership, to hear from people as well who are being affected by this in their daily lives.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Very good to be with you. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.