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Secretary Antony J. Blinken At a Press Availability
December 1, 2023

Secretary Antony J. Blinken holds a press conference in Brussels, Belgium, November 29, 2023. (Official State Department photo by Chuck Kennedy)


SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, good afternoon, everyone.

In March of 2021, I came here to NATO to affirm President Biden’s commitment to rebuild, to revitalize, to re-energize our core alliances and partnerships.  Indeed, they’re our greatest strategic asset: an unmatched network of alliances and partnerships.

And I did this at NATO because some back then were questioning its relevance, its capacity, its unity.

As we meet here today in Brussels, those who bet against NATO have clearly been proven wrong.

NATO today is bigger, it’s stronger, it’s more united, it’s more capable than ever.

In Vilnius, NATO’s leaders agreed to the most ambitious plans since end of the Cold War to adapt and to strengthen our Alliance.  And we’re now delivering on those plans.

Nineteen NATO Allies either are meeting their Wales commitment or have credible plans to do so by 2024 – in other words, devoting 2 percent of their budgets to defense spending.  That’s two-thirds of our Alliance.

Allies are increasing contributions of forces and other capabilities.

We are working together to boost our joint industrial defense capacity.  We’ve added our 31st ally, Finland, and the 32nd, Sweden, will soon be among us.

NATO will continue to adapt to meet 21st century challenges, threats – whether it’s Russian aggression, coercion from China, challenges in cyberspace, terrorism – the entire gamut of things that we have to be concerned about as an Alliance.

And in fact it’s this capacity to evolve that has made NATO the world’s indispensable Alliance for 75 years, and the actions we’ve taken at Vilnius and that we’re taking here over the last couple of days are setting NATO up to remain that indispensable Alliance for the next 75 years.

The meetings here this week focused on critical steps that we can take to advance NATO’s revitalization in time for the historic Washington Summit, the 75th anniversary summit that’ll take place next year.

First, we focused on NATO’s enduring support and commitment to Ukraine.  And I have to tell you, listening to all of our colleagues around the table, every single one expressed strong, enduring support for Ukraine.

Some are questioning whether the United States and other NATO Allies should continue to stand with Ukraine as we enter the second winter of Putin’s brutality.  But the answer here today at NATO is clear and it’s unwavering:  We must and we will continue to support Ukraine.

Ensuring that Russia’s war of aggression remains a strategic failure is as vital today as when the Kremlin launched that war almost two years ago.

Now, our adversaries are not standing on the sidelines.  Most of the drones that we’ve seen used in the biggest-ever drone attack on Kyiv just last weekend, those were made and supplied by Iran.  North Korea is providing significant arms shipments to Russia.  Stakes for all of us are clear.  And again, I heard this from everyone around the table.  And we must send an unequivocal message:  No country will be allowed redraw borders by force.  That’s an interest of every single Ally around the table; it’s an interest of many countries beyond this Alliance with whom we’ve been working since February of 2022.

And it’s also why we’re accelerating efforts to enable Ukraine to stand strongly on its own feet – militarily, economically, democratically.

Even as we’re supporting Ukraine’s fight today, we are helping them build a military that is capable of deterring and defending against aggression far into the future.  The supplemental budget request that the President made is a demonstration of our own commitment to that goal, and we’re looking to Congress to approve it in the coming weeks.

Another critical point that is really worth underscoring, and it’s reinforced by everything that I’ve seen over the last two days here:  When it comes to Ukraine, the United States is not standing alone.  We’ve provided about $77 billion in assistance to Ukraine; our European Allies over the same period of time have provided more than $110 billion.  So we often talk about burden sharing and the imperative of burden sharing.  When it comes to Ukraine, that’s clearly what we’ve seen and what we continue to see.

Ukraine knows that its future as a free, vibrant democracy and its path to NATO and the European Union depend on its ongoing reform efforts, and Kyiv has committed to seeing those reforms through.  We also heard that today from its foreign minister.

So these were some of the issues that the Alliance discussed with Foreign Minister Kuleba, and this was the first foreign ministers meeting we’ve had of the new NATO-Ukraine Council, with Ukraine sitting at its place at the NATO table.

We also discussed NATO’s ongoing role in promoting peace and security in the Western Balkans.

Now, when I started out in this line of work 30 years ago, front and center in our concern and the concerns of countries around the world and certainly in the trans-Atlantic area: the Balkans – Bosnia, and then Kosovo.  The one thing we don’t need is a return to the future when it comes to conflict in the Balkans.

NATO has a critical role to plan in helping states in the region make progress on their paths to EU membership and to broader European stability.  NATO has long provided the backbone of security in the Western Balkans; it’s going to continue to do so.

The Alliance has responded decisively to actors who are seeking to destabilize northern Kosovo, as we saw earlier this year, deploying additional troops to KFOR.  We’re deepening our collaboration with the EU-led force in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well.  So this was another critical part of our conversation over the last two days.

Tonight, I’m heading to Skopje for the OSCE Ministerial Council.  Despite Russia’s flagrant violations of every single core principle of the Helsinki Final Act, its relentless efforts to obstruct the OSCE’s work, the 50 other participating states have shown determination to make sure that the organization continues to fulfill its purpose to advance European security.  And that’s what we’ll keep doing in Skopje.

From Skopje, we head to Israel, the West Bank, and then on to the UAE, where, in addition to participating in the COP, I’ll have an opportunity to meet with Arab partners to discuss the conflict in Gaza.

We head back to region as the humanitarian pause that we helped to negotiate with Qatar and with Egypt has allowed scores of hostages to be released and to be reunited with their families.  We’re surging humanitarian assistance into Gaza to make sure that its people have what they need to get by.

Looking at the next couple of days, we’ll be focused on making – doing what we can to extend the pause so that we continue to get more hostages out and more humanitarian assistance in.

We’ll discuss with Israel how it can achieve its objective of ensuring that the terrorist attacks of October 7th never happen again, while sustaining and increasing humanitarian assistance – and minimizing further suffering and casualties among Palestinian civilians.  We’ll keep our efforts going to prevent the conflict from spreading.  And of course, we’ll remain focused on enabling the safe departure of American citizens and other foreign nationals from Gaza.

Finally, we will work to build on the principles that I set out in Tokyo a few weeks ago for the day after in Gaza, and define the steps that we and our partners in the region can take now to lay the foundation for a just and lasting peace.

With that, happy to take some questions.

MR MILLER:  First question goes to Tracy Wilkinson with the L.A. Times.

QUESTION:  Hi.  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.


QUESTION:  You spoke of the strength and unity of NATO, and you also said that there are those who question whether NATO and the United States should continue to support Ukraine at the level that it does.  Could you elaborate on that?  What were the anxiety levels among some of your Allies here about U.S. commitment, given the voices we’re hearing in parts of the United States who talk about abandoning the Ukraine cause and especially changes – political changes that may come next year?

And then second, if I could ask you about the Israel-Gaza war.  To what extent did that overshadow talks here, or impact talks here, or have a role in the talks here?

Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Tracy, thank you.  First, the second part of the question first.  Yes, we certainly had conversations about Gaza, but it in no way took away from the intense focus that we’ve had over the last couple of days on Ukraine as well as on the Western Balkans and preparing for the NATO Summit in Washington next spring.

With regard to Ukraine, let me say this again because it was very, very starkly clear listening to all of our colleagues around the table.  Virtually to a country, we heard – I heard – a strong, enduring commitment on the part of Alliance members to Ukraine, to making sure that it had what it needs to defend itself, to retake territory seized from it by Russia, but also to build itself up so that it can stand strongly on its own feet militarily, economically, and democratically.  I heard no sense of fatigue or falling back – on the contrary, a determination to continue to press forward.

And there’s a good reason for that.  I think every Ally recognizes that this is a matter not only of doing the right thing, it’s a matter of self-interest, including for the United States.  There is a clear self-interest among Allies to stand for the basic principles at the heart of the UN Charter that are being violated egregiously by Russia, because these principles matter to our own peace and security.  As we’ve said repeatedly, if we allow a country like Russia to act with impunity to redraw the borders of another by force, to try to determine and dictate the future of another country, if that happens with impunity then it’s open season and any would-be aggressor anywhere is likely to draw lessons from that.  That’s why it’s been so important to us, but also to every country around the table, to strand strongly with and for Ukraine.  And I heard nothing to suggest the contrary.

And when it comes to the United States, what I continue to see, what I continue to hear is strong bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress for Ukraine, and I think you heard Speaker Johnson address this just the other day, which is very encouraging.  So we have work to do to move the supplemental budget request that the President made forward.  We’re determined to do that.  And again, we’re determined to do that because it’s so clearly in our interest.  And Congress time and again when we’ve gone to them has stood up and delivered, and we expect that to happen going forward – again, not because it’s – not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s the necessary thing to do to advance the interests of the United States.

MR MILLER:  Joe Barnes with The Telegraph.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Yeah, Joe Barnes from The Daily Telegraph.  There’s a growing perception that Ukraine’s Western allies will move away from helping Ukraine sustain another major counteroffensive in a switch of strategy that essentially helps Ukraine hold its lines.  How do you ensure that the next strategy taken by Western allies doesn’t prematurely push President Zelenskyy and Ukraine into premature peace negotiations?

And secondly, if I may, could I get your thoughts on former Secretary General Rasmussen’s plan that would see Ukraine be allowed to join NATO, but without Russian-occupied territories being covered by Article 5?

Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good.  Thanks.  So what you describe is not at all what I’m hearing, seeing, or what we’re doing.  The NATO countries individually – and we have now more than 50 countries that are many of them, of course, NATO members, others not, who have been almost from day one fully part of the effort to make sure that Ukraine has what it needs not only to defend itself against ongoing Russian aggression, but to help enable it to retake territory that Russia seized from it.  And that commitment continues and there’s no move away from that.  We’re determined to make sure that Ukraine has what it needs, including to take back territory that Russia has taken from it.

At the same time, there’s also – and I think this is critically important – a commitment on the part of many countries to help Ukraine build a future force that can ensure deterrence and ensure defense against aggression going forward.  And that’s critically important, coupled with the efforts that we’re making in other areas – for example, to generate private sector investment in Ukraine so that its economy can continue to grow, to build, and it has resources of its own – as well as making sure that it’s advancing on reforms to strengthen its democracy, which will be tremendously facilitated by the fact that the European Union is engaging Ukraine in – on the accession process, and of course reforms are necessary for that.

All of that is doing two things.  It’s making sure that Ukraine has what it needs in this moment to continue to deal with Russian aggression, to continue to work to take back its territory, but also sets Ukraine up strongly for the future so that it can stand strongly on its own feet – again, not only militarily but economically and democratically.  That’s the single best response that we can make.

And it also has this effect:  The main impediment to resolving this aggression, to resolving this conflict, which no one wants more than the Ukrainian people – the main, in fact the only impediment is Vladmir Putin, and the extent to which he believes that he can somehow outlast Ukraine, outlast its people, outlast its supporters may be feeding the refusal of Russia to engage in any meaningful way in diplomacy or negotiations.

So the work of this Alliance, the work of the individual countries that are part of this Alliance as well as many other countries around the world to support Ukraine, to help it defend itself, as well as to set it up for the future – that’s the single most effective way to disabuse Putin of this very wrongheaded notion.

MR MILLER:  Michael Crowley.


MR MILLER:  Oh, sorry.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  On – I’m sorry, on Rasmussen, I haven’t focused on that.  I think the Alliance in Vilnius was very clear that Ukraine will become a member of NATO when all Allies agree and when conditions are met.  That’s the policy.  It was clearly stated in Vilnius, clearly reaffirmed today.

MR MILLER:  Michael Crowley with The New York Times.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  Two questions on Gaza.  The first is, given the large number of hostages who remain in enormous humanitarian need in Gaza, do you believe that the current pause in fighting should be substantially extended despite concerns in Israel that it may be allowing Hamas to regroup?  And is it possible that Israel’s offensive would not resume at all?

And secondly, you have stressed the importance of pursuing a two-state solution for long-term peace.  Many people doubt that Prime Minister Netanyahu shares that vision.  What is your opinion, and what are the implications if he does not?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, Michael.  With regard to the pause, look, we’d like to see the pause extended because what it has enabled first and foremost is hostages being released, coming home, being reunited with their families.  It’s also enabled us to surge humanitarian assistance into the people of Gaza who so desperately need it.  So its continuation, by definition, means that more hostages would be coming home, more assistance would be getting in.

So clearly that’s something we want, and I believe it’s also something that Israel wants.  They’re also intensely focused on bringing their people home.  So we’re working on that.  As you know, we’re working on that every single day, and I expect to take that up tomorrow when I’m in Israel meeting with the government.  And again, we have other colleagues in the government who are intensely working on that.

With regard to two states, look, I think we’ve been very clear from well before October 7th – in fact, from the first day of this administration – that we believe that that is the only path to enduring peace; to enduring security; to the preservation of Israel as a strong, secure, democratic, and Jewish state; and Palestinians having their legitimate aspirations for a state and self-determination met.  And I think the events of October 7th only further confirm that commitment.

But all of this is a process that everyone will need to focus on.  Right now, everyone’s focused on the day of, what’s happening in Gaza right now.  But we also need to be focused at the same time – and we are in conversations with many other countries – on what I’ve called both the day after and the day after the day after.  By the day after, I mean what happens in Gaza once the campaign is over.  There are important questions about its governance, its security, its reconstruction.  A few – a couple of weeks ago in Tokyo I laid out some basic principles that we see as being necessary.  But also, the day after the day after, which is how do we get on a clear path to meeting the legitimate political aspirations of the Palestinian people, which really, in our judgment, is the only way to durable peace, durable security for everyone, starting with Israel and Israelis.

But these are conversations that we’ll pursue in the days ahead, in the weeks ahead, in the months ahead.  There’s a long history here.  But I think we – what this has done, what October 7th has done, among other things, is I think to refocus many countries in the region and well beyond on how do we help Israel ensure that this never happens again.  And we believe that one component of that is putting in place the conditions for genuinely lasting, durable peace and stability.  And for us, the best path there goes to the two states.

MR MILLER:  And the final question goes to Alexander Baker with De Telegraaf.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  How does the U.S. view the ambition of the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to be the new secretary general of NATO?  And is the outcome of the Dutch election an obstacle?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, first, we have one secretary general at a time, and as it happens, we have an extraordinary secretary general right now in Secretary General Stoltenberg.  I said it yesterday, repeated it at the council:  His leadership over the last few years, at one of the most challenging times in the history of our Alliance, has been nothing short of exceptional.  And again, colleagues around the table said the same thing.  But he still has a lot of work to do as we head to the Washington Summit, which is still many months away.  We’re focused intensely on that work and on working with the secretary general to make sure that we have a successful summit and the Alliance continues to deliver on the commitments that its leaders have made, particularly at the Vilnius Summit.

With regard to the future and the next secretary general, I’m not going to comment on internal deliberations within the Alliance.  We will work that out; we’ll work on it together.  And I would expect that by the Washington Summit we’ll be in a position to talk about it more clearly and more directly.  Thanks.

MR MILLER:  Thank you all.