Joint press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken

  • 29 Jan. 2024 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 30 Jan. 2024 00:16

(As delivered)

Thanks so much, Secretary Blinken, dear Tony,
Thank you for hosting me here in Washington.

It is always good to meet with you.
And even more important given the dangers we face.

So let me begin by offering my deepest condolences for the US troops killed and wounded in yesterday’s drone attack in Jordan.

We see Iran continue to destabilise the region.

Iran also bears responsibility for backing terrorists who attack our ships in the Red Sea.

Tehran’s behaviour reminds us of what a world without rules looks like:
Unpredictable and dangerous.
A world where our security becomes more expensive.

I welcome your tireless diplomacy, Secretary Blinken, to prevent further escalation of the war in Gaza. 
Your efforts to alleviate human suffering.
And your hard work toward a peaceful resolution.

Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine is nearing the two-year mark.
And a Russian victory would embolden Iran, North Korea and China.

That matters for Europe’s security.
And it matters for America’s security.

So supporting Ukraine serves U.S. interests.

For a tiny fraction of annual defence spending, the United States has helped Ukraine destroy a major part of Russia’s combat capacity.  
Without placing a single American soldier in harm’s way.   

I welcome the clear commitment from President Biden and you.
To sustain U.S. support to Ukraine.
And to work with Congress to achieve that.

As you said, other Allies are also stepping up.

In fact, what European NATO Allies and Canada provide –
in terms of military, financial, and humanitarian aid –
actually exceeds what the U.S. is providing.

So truly joint effort from both sides of the Atlantic.

And I am confident that all NATO Allies will continue to deliver.
Because supporting Ukraine is not charity.
It is an investment in our own security. 

President Putin started this war, and he could end it today – if he stopped attacking a neighbour.
The war could also end if Ukraine stopped defending itself,
But that would not mean peace.
It would mean Russian occupation.
And occupation is not peace.

A just peace will require President Putin to realise that he will not get what he wants on the battlefield.
Moscow must accept a negotiated solution where Ukraine prevails as a sovereign, independent nation.

What happens around the negotiating table is inextricably linked to the situation on the battlefield.
So if we want a lasting, just peace, we must provide Ukraine with more weapons and ammunition.
Weapons to Ukraine is the path to peace.

Finally, we also discussed adapting our Alliance for the future.

In July, we will mark NATO’s 75th anniversary with a Summit here in Washington.

And as you said, NATO is getting stronger and bigger. 
Finland is already a member, Sweden will become a member soon. 
And this demonstrates that Putin is getting exactly the opposite of what he wanted.

He wanted less NATO, a weaker NATO.
He’s getting a stronger NATO and a more united NATO and a NATO with more members.

At the Summit, we will take further steps to bolster NATO’s strength.
Invest more in our defence.
And work with partners around the world.

Through NATO, the U.S. has more friends and allies than any other power.
Together, we make up 50 percent of the world’s economic and military might.

China and Russia have nothing like NATO.
It is why they always try to undermine our unity.

In times of growing competition and rivalry.
NATO makes the U.S. stronger and safer.
And all of us more secure.

Secretary Blinken, dear Tony,
Thank you again for your personal commitment to our transatlantic bond and to our shared security.

Thank you.


Olivia Gazis, CBS:

Today, the United States has not publicly accused Iran of being directly involved in any attacks on US forces, while noting the regime in Tehran supports and does not discourage its proxies from conducting these attacks. This weekend's lethal strike Mr. Secretary was one of at least 160 attacks on US forces in the region by Iranian proxies since October. Could earlier stronger action by the United States against Iran, and not just its militias, have spared American lives?  And secondly, if I may, Mr. Secretary, the UN Secretary General has appealed to the US and 10 other countries who have suspended funding to UNRWA, following revelations regarding allegations that at least a dozen of its 13,000 employees may have had involvement in the October 7 attacks. And more than 100 more may have links to militant groups, under what circumstances and how soon could the US consider resuming its support, considering this decision comes as Gaza is tipping into famine, and given your own personal and persistent appeals that humanitarian aid to Gaza, Gaza civilians increase and not decrease?

Mr. Secretary General welcome to Washington. Welcome back. The United States Congress, as you well know remains at a political impasse regarding continued aid to Ukraine and the European Union is likewise struggling politically to restart the flow of resources into Kyiv. You yourself have said that Ukraine's spring offensive didn't lead to the results that many had hoped for. So how long does Ukraine's military have before the marginal successes that it did notch when it enjoyed steadier resources from the West, risk being reversed by Russia, which seems to be enjoying growing support from the likes of North Korea and Iran? And briefly, Mr. Secretary General, I understand you'll be meeting with American lawmakers during this trip to Washington much as President Zelenskyy did when he was here late last year. Is there a message you believe you can deliver to those lawmakers to make a timely difference in their decision making? Thank you.

Secretary Blinken:

Thank you very much. And thank you for also representing all your colleagues and making sure that you ask all their questions as well. Appreciate it.  Look first, I think it's very important to note that this is an incredibly volatile time in the Middle East.  I would argue that we have not seen a situation as as dangerous as the one we're facing now across the region since at least 1973. And arguably, even even before that, and that is the environment in which we're operating. And of course that was triggered by the horrific attacks of October 7 by Hamas, against innocent men, women and children.  We've made very, very clear from day one, that we're going to defend our people. We're going to defend our personnel. We're going to defend our interests and that's exactly what we've done. We've taken action and significant action to deter groups to degrade their capabilities in Iraq, in Syria, in Yemen.  At the same time, the President's been very clear that we want to prevent broader escalation. We want to prevent this conflict from spreading.  So we are intent on doing both, that is standing up for our people when they're attacked, while at the same time working every single day to prevent the conflict from growing and spreading. And that's exactly what we'll continue to do. It's fundamentally what's in the interest of the United States. What's in the interests of the region, and I think what's in the interests of the world.

But the President said this, I think virtually from day one, to anyone who would try to use the crisis in the Middle East the conflict in the Middle East. To sow further instability and to use it as an excuse to attack our personnel. We will respond, we will respond strongly. We will respond at a time and place of our choosing. And obviously I'm not going to telegraph what we might do in this instance or get ahead of the President. But I can again tell you that as the President said yesterday, we will respond and that response could be multi levelled, come in stages and be sustained over time.

With regard to UNRWA, the reports that we got last week and UNRWA brought them to us, were deeply, deeply troubling.  It is imperative that UNRWA immediately, as it said it would, investigate that it would hold people accountable as necessary, and that it review its procedures. I had a very good conversation with Secretary General the United Nations Guterres  last week when we were first made aware of these allegations. And we're going to be looking very hard at the steps that UNRWA takes, again to make sure that this is fully and thoroughly investigated, that there's clear accountability and that is necessary, measures are put in place so that this doesn't happen again, assuming the allegations are fully borne out. Certainly we've not had the ability to investigate them ourselves. But they are highly, highly credible.  At the same time, and as you indicated.  UNRWA has played and continues to play an absolutely indispensable role in trying to make sure that men, women and children who so desperately need assistance in Gaza, actually get it and no one else can play the role that UNRWA has been playing, certainly not in the in the near term. No one has the the reach, the capacity, the structure to do what UNRWA  has been doing. And from our perspective, it's important, more than important, imperative that that that role continues. So that only underscores the importance of UNRWA tackling this as quickly, as effectively and as thoroughly as possible, and that's what we're looking for.

Secretary General:

I will meet members of Congress tomorrow. And, of course, I'm looking forward to discussing many issues with them, including Ukraine. I'm confident that all NATO Allies also the United States will continue to provide support to Ukraine, because this is in our own security interest to do so. It will be a tragedy for Ukrainians if President Putin wins but it will also make the world more dangerous and us all of us more insecure.  It will embolden other authoritarian leaders, not only Putin, but also North Korea, Iran and China to use force. Today it's Ukraine,  tomorrow it could be Taiwan. So therefore it is in our interest to ensure that Ukraine prevails as a sovereign independent nation, and the support we are providing is making a difference.  There's a steady flow of ammunition, weapons from NATO Allies. And we have seen that this support has enabled the Ukrainians to actually make big achievements. We have to remember where we started, when this war started, or when the full fledged invasion happened in February last year, most experts feared that Russia would control Kyiv within days and and the whole of Ukraine within weeks. The reality is that the Ukrainians were able to push back the Russian forces, and they have liberated 50% of the territory that Russia occupied at the beginning of the war. They have been able to inflict heavy losses on the Russian Armed Forces more than 300 [thousand] casualties, thousands of armoured vehicles have been destroyed, and hundreds of planes.  And this is something we all have achieved without putting any NATO soldier, US soldier, or any other NATO solar in harm's way.  But just by providing military support to Ukraine, and Ukrainians have been able to open the western part of the Black Sea to push the Russian Black Sea Fleet to the east. So they're now able to export grain and other commodities through the Black Sea. These are substantial achievements, and they continue to conduct deep strikes on Russian positions. So this idea that it doesn't help to help them. Actually Ukrainians have proved the opposite. Then of course, we all would like to have seen more progress in the offensive, but we should not underestimate the achievements the Ukrainians have already made. And if we want an end to this war, the only way to end this war is to convince Putin he will not win on the battlefield. And the only way to achieve that is to provide weapons to Ukraine, from the United States, from other Allies and partners. So, support for Ukraine is a good deal for NATO, for the United States, for all of us.  Wars are by nature unpredictable, but the only thing we know is that is that we need to continue to support them. And I'm confident that we will do so and also when they meet in Washington, I'm confident that Allies will again commit to sustain their support for Ukraine.

Caitriona Perry, BBC:

Mr. Secretary, if I could just follow up on my colleagues comments there, you referred to a multistage response to yesterday's attack. Do you hold Iran directly responsible? Do you consider the US to be at war or on the verge of war, at this point? And what impact would any response have on the hostage ceasefire deal which we're told is at an advanced advanced stage at this point? And Mr. Secretary General, if I could ask you what NATO's view is of the risk of the US becoming involved in a direct conflict with Iran, what that means for NATO's other priorities, including Ukraine, and on the risk to further US funding of Ukraine?  Can NATO and other Allies, including the EU, keep Ukraine going without the US if they need to do that?  And just on the point of EU and European countries, on the issue of Sweden, and Hungary holding out on its ratification of membership, do you think is that forthcoming soon? And what does that mean for future expansion of NATO? Thank you.

Secretary Blinken:

So the attacks that have taken place since October on our on our forces, on our personnel in both Iraq and Syria, have been conducted by groups that are aligned with with Iran and indeed are supported by Iran. funded by Iran. equipped by Iran.  And I would note that the presence of our forces in both Iraq and Syria has nothing to do with with Gaza, nothing to do with the the conflict that's taken place since October 7 since the horrific attacks by Hamas and everything to do with making sure that ISIS doesn't reemerge. That's why they're there. Something that Iran should share as an interest but on the contrary, the groups that are aligned with it, have been conducting these attacks. And as I mentioned, we do not seek conflict with Iran. We do not seek war with Iran. But we have and we will continue to defend our personnel and to take every action necessary to do that, including responding very vigorously to the attack that that just took place. And as I mentioned, I'm not going to get ahead of where the President is.  I'm certainly not going to telegraph the response, but as I mentioned, that response could well be multi levelled. It could come in stages. And it could be sustained over time.  At the same time, totally separately, we have been working to try to get hostages back out of Gaza and at the same time to get an extended pause.  And that effort is something that we're very, very actively pursuing right now. With, of course, our partners in Qatar and Egypt, as well as Israel.  Those who are trying to expand the conflict, broaden the conflict, escalate the conflict, they may say that they're doing that somehow in response to Gaza. But every action they're taking really is to perpetuate the conflict and to and to expand it. They don't have the interests of anyone in mind except their own interests as they see them. And we're determined again that we do everything possible not to see the conflict expand. On the contrary, we're working to end it and ended in a way that the atrocities of October 7 never happened again.

As well as the suffering that we've seen on the part of Israelis and Palestinians alike, doesn't happen again. That's what we're working toward.  And that's where our focus is.

Secretary General:

First on the issue of a Swedish membership, I welcome of course that Türkiye now has finalised the ratification process with the decision in the parliament and also the signature from President Erdogan This demonstrates that Türkiye has followed up and delivered on what we all promised at the NATO summit in in Vilnius last last summer, and it demonstrates that NATO's door is open. I spoke last week with the Prime Minister Orban of Hungary because now Hungary is the only country that has not yet finalised the ratification process. Prime Minister Orban very clear that he supports Swedish membership of NATO. He told me that then parliament in Hungary will reconvene at the end of February and I expect also in line with what he saidm that the parliament will then finalise certification shortly after that.  So I'm confident that Sweden will be a full member of the Alliance, that will make NATO stronger it will send a clear message to Moscow, and it will demonstrate that it's for NATO Allies to decide who is going to be a member Moscow have no veto over NATO enlargement.

Then on Iran, of course Iran is responsible for de stabilising the whole region that needs stability and security in the Middle East. It is repressive at home and aggressive abroad. We have seen this through many different attacks and also the different proxy groups, terrorist groups that Iran supports.  This underlines of course, also the risk of escalation and therefore I welcome the efforts by the United States to address these risks. And it is important that we also realise that Russia and Iran are now aligning more and more. Russia is more and more dependent on drones from Iran. They actually built a new factory in Russia, based on Iranian drone technology. And in return, Russia is providing advanced technology to Iran. So it demonstrates how authoritarian regimes are now coming closer and closer. And the only answer to that is that NATO Allies, all those countries that believe in democracy, how to stand together as we do in NATO.

Alex Marquardt, CNN:

Mr. Secretary, if I could start with you, specifically about the hostage and ceasefire talks. Can you share specifically what progress was made yesterday in Paris? The Qatari Prime Minister after his meeting with you he made it sound like a broad framework had been agreed to and it was being taken to Hamas for them to take a look at, do you believe that it is the language surrounding the end of hostilities, that is the biggest sticking point? And if you would also comment on how, to what extent Prime Minister Netanyahu's comments about no Palestinian sovereignty his leaked recording about criticising Qatar, his ministers talking about resettling Gaza, to what extent has that complicated these conversations over an eventual deal? And Mr. Secretary General, following on some of my colleagues questions, how much do you think Ukraine's war efforts are suffering because of the dwindling amount of US aid and the uncertainty about whether more will be coming? How can you convince the US and others to continue sending advanced systems and large, large amounts of aid when they could they say that supply issues are growing? Thank you.

Secretary Blinken:

So first, of course, look, the less said the better in terms of where we are in pursuing a resumption of getting hostages out and back home with their families. What I can tell you is this, I think the work that's been done, including just this weekend, is important and is hopeful in terms of seeing that process resume. Recall that, the first go round, we were able, with our partners in Qatar and Egypt, to get an agreement that resulted in the release of more than 100 hostages and I believe that the proposal that is on the table, and that is shared among all of the critical actors, of course, Israel, but also with Qatar and Egypt playing a critical role in mediating and working between Israel and Hamas, I believe the puzzle is a strong one, and a compelling one that, again, offers some hope that we can get back to this process, but Hamas will have to make its own decisions. I can just tell you that there is again, strong, I would say alignment among the countries involved that this is a good, strong proposal and the work that was done over the weekend, including by CIA director Bill Burns, was important in helping to advance this, as to comments that people make, or that come out into the media, look, all I can tell you is this. It's my strong assessment, that certainly Israel would very much like to see this process of hostages coming out, resume.  It may be, well, I don't want to speak for the Israelis, but I can certainly say from the perspective of the United States because we of course, have American citizens are involved, this is at the very top of our list and has been from from day one. And I believe that Israeli leadership and certainly Israeli society feels very, very strongly about it. So we'll see. I can't say anything more than that, but I can say that very important, productive work has been done. And there is some real hope going forward.

Secretary General:

The United States has demonstrated leadership in mobilising NATO allies to support Ukraine and I count on the United States, and I am confident that United States will continue to do so, because it is in the interest of the United States to ensure that President Putin does not win in Ukraine.  And that we have to remember that this is something we should do together and all NATO Allies and partners, as Secretary Blinken just referred to, European allies have actually provided more support in total for Ukraine than the United States. I commend the United States but we must not forget that this is a joint effort of all Allies.  And if we put together what European Allies and Canada are providing its actually exceeds the US support. So this is burden sharing, a joint effort by all Allies together, and we do so in solidarity with Ukraine. But our support is not charity. It is an investment in our own security because we know that this is closely watched also in Beijing.  And we also see how China and Russia are aligning more and more, how China is propping up the Russian economy, including the defence production, we see how China is repeating and spreading the same narrative about the war as as Russia, how China has failed to condemn the illegal invasion of Ukraine, and then we have to remember that just days before the full scale invasion, China and Russia, President Xi and President Putin, signed a joint partnership agreement where they promised each other limitless partnership. So I understand that that many Allies are also concerned about China. But that's not an argument for being less concerned about Ukraine.

Security is not regional security is global. What happens in Europe matters for Asia. What happens in Asia matters for Europe and today, it's Ukraine tomorrow it can be Taiwan. So therefore, it is in our interest to ensure that we provide the weapons and support they need, and I'm confident that Allies will do so.  To make sure that we can do that we need the money but we also need to ramp up production. And I welcome what has been done in the United States, on Wednesday I will go to Alabama to a factory there where they are producing Javelins, Lockheed Martin, to recognise the importance of ramping up production. We have to understand that the fact that European Allies are now investing more in defence is a good deal for the United States, demonstrating that NATO's security is good for the United States.  Just over the last two years, European NATO allies have agreed  contracts for the US defence industry worth 120 billion US dollars. We need to do more. And therefore, I welcome also that NATO has now the last months actually agreed contracts worth $10 billion to ramp up production of ammunition, of interceptors for the Patriot batteries, and so on, that enable us to replenish our own stocks but also to continue to provide support to Ukraine. So we are able, we have the will. And I'm confident that we'll have the necessary decisions both in the United States and Europe to continue to support.

Anders Tvegård, NRK:

Mr. Secretary, the Biden administration's policy on supporting Israel is unmistakable. How would you look at the interim ruling by the World Court on Gaza? And if I may, you talked about Congress and the funds. What message does this send about US leadership when your administration cannot, or won't hold words, or promises you cannot fulfil by action?  Mr. Stoltenberg, you have now repeatedly warned about that China is watching the discussions over here about arming Ukraine. How does this play out, how will China use this?

Secretary Blinken:

Let me take the second part of the question first. I think you've heard both from me and from the Secretary General, how critical this this ongoing funding is both from the United States as well as from our partners and Allies around the world and in fact, the EU European Union is also looking at additional support that it wants to provide to Ukraine and that decision is also critical. I think these are mutually reinforcing. As Jens said, the fact that our own Allies and partners have actually provided more than the United States, as much as we've already done, should reinforce the message to Congress as its considering the supplemental budget request, that we really do have, what is so critical, and that is burden sharing. That this is a load that is being borne more than equitably among Allies and partners. And by the way, not just in Europe, of course, we have key partners in other parts of the world and notably in Asia who are participating in this.  But equally, if the United States doesn't follow through on our on our commitments, then it's going to make it more difficult to have Europeans and others continue to do what they've already been doing. So I think it matters a lot, more than a lot. I think it's essential that we do make, make good on our commitments. And as we do, I'm convinced that Allies and partners around the world will continue to do what they've been doing. And I also remain confident that in Congress, we continue to have strong and bipartisan support for Ukraine. So let's see in the days and weeks ahead, as this moves forward, there is no other magic pot of money. And we are now currently out of the military assistance that we've been providing to Ukraine and we're even seeing some evidence of what that means on the on the battlefield. So it is absolutely vital, absolutely urgent that we do it. And it is important in the terms that you've laid down, which is what does this mean for our word and our leadership around the world, but I'm confident that as we do it, you will see the benefits of that leadership with many other countries. Allies and partners alike continuing to do what's necessary with us to defend Ukraine. With regard to the ICJ ruling first, let me just say broadly, that we continue to believe clearly that the allegations of genocide are without merit we have consistently made clear to Israel, going back to the early days, the imperative of taking every possible step to protect civilian life, to get humanitarian assistance to those who need it.  And also to address dehumanising rhetoric that we've heard from some individuals.  The court in this decision agreed with that. And the court's ruling is also very consistent with our view that Israel has the right to take action to ensure that the terrorist attacks of October 7 never happen again, in accordance with international law. So I can just say we took note of the the opinion we will continue to monitor the proceeding as it as it moves forward.

Secretary General:

China is not an adversary and I welcome the fact that the United States and other Allies engage with China in dialogue on issues of mutual concern, like climate change and an arms control.  But at the same time, we have to take seriously the consequences for our security, the significant military buildup, which China now is undertaking, and also the fact that the war in Ukraine is bringing China and Russia closer with the substantial support that China provides to Russia in different ways and the promise of limitless partnership in the midst of this brutal war, aggression against Ukraine.  Of course, the size of the Chinese economy, the significant military buildup, all of that is a challenge for all NATO Allies, also for the United States. The United States is by far the biggest Ally.  But it is a great advantage even for the United States to have so many friends and Allies as you have a NATO. No other major power, Russia and China has nothing similar. The US represents 25% of the world's GDP but together with NATO Allies, we represent 50% of the world's GDP and 50% of the world's military might. So it's no reason why the US should deal with China alone. Together, we are so much stronger. It demonstrates that NATO is a good deal for the United States. It's good for all European Allies, but also for the United States. So therefore, one of the messages from the Summit next summer, I expect will be that we need to stand together in a more dangerous world. NATO is more needed than ever, because we live in a more unpredictable and dangerous world.