QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining us this morning.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good morning, George.
QUESTION: I want to talk – start with Ukraine. President Biden, of course, is meeting with President Zelenskyy at the White House tomorrow, making the case here in New York for more aid, but there does seem to be resistance on Capitol Hill. How do you respond to that?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: George, we’ve seen various strong bipartisan support for helping Ukraine, going back to the very beginning of the Russian aggression. I’ve had the opportunity to speak to the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, to people like Mike McCaul who leads the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House. That support remains strong. And I think President Zelenskyy has an opportunity now in Washington to remind people of what the stakes are. This is not just the right thing to do because of the horrific abuses that Russia is committing in Ukraine; it’s the necessary thing to do. Because if we allow Putin to get away with this, then it is going to be open season for would-be aggressors anywhere. The rest of the world is watching what’s happening in Ukraine. And those who may have designs on their neighbors, as Putin had with Ukraine, are looking to see what happens. And if he gets away with it, they say: Maybe I can get away with it. And that’s a recipe for a world full of conflict, and that’s never good for the United States.
QUESTION: Another key issue – the U.S. engaged in talks with Saudi Arabia over a possible mutual defense pact. Of course, Saudi Arabia has been accused of war crimes in Yemen, responsible for killing an American journalist. How is that in the U.S. national interest?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: One thing first on Yemen – thanks to very good work that Saudi Arabia has done over the last year or so – more than a year, a year and a half – we’ve now had a truce in Yemen, which had been the worst humanitarian situation in the world. There’s been a truce. It’s fragile, but as a result, people are not getting killed, humanitarian assistance is getting there. That’s thanks to Saudi engagement with the Houthis, the group that has been disrupting the peace in Yemen.
Second, George, when it comes to possible normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel, this would be a transformative event. We’ve had decades of turmoil, decades of conflict in the Middle East. To bring these two countries together in particular would have a powerful effect in stabilizing the region, in integrating the region, in bringing people together, not having them at each other’s throats. Now, it’s hard to get there. There are things that Saudis are looking for, things the Israelis are looking for, things we’d be looking for that make getting to “yes” a challenge. But we see the reward, if we can get there, as well being worth the effort.
QUESTION: The President, of course, is also meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That’s right.
QUESTION: — today – not at the White House, here in New York City. Do you believe that the prime minister is willing to do what it takes to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: My sense, George, is that everyone involved understands the potential benefits, sees the transformative nature of what this would be, but the devil is always in the details. And making sure that in terms of what the Saudis are looking for, the Israelis are looking for, what – as I said, what we’d be looking for – can we line all that up? Can we make it work? That remains to be seen. It’s challenging. But, again, I come back to this proposition that if we can get there, it would be one of the biggest changes for the good that we’ve seen in that part of the world. And beyond that, I think you’d see positive repercussions well beyond the Middle East.
QUESTION: Final question – it appears the United States may be on the verge of another government shutdown. There seems to be some stalling on the government funding bills in the House. What would that mean for the State Department, U.S. diplomatic efforts?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It makes everything harder. We, of course, would do everything we can to make sure we’re doing the work of the country, the work that we’re trying to do on behalf of Americans to help keep them secure, to help continuing to make peace, end conflicts, and deal with the issues that are having an impact on the lives of Americans. But it would make everything much more difficult.
From my perspective, look, it’s important that the government be able to continue to function and that we continue to be able to go around the world helping to solve problems that are having an impact on Americans. Here in New York just this week, we’ve been dealing with everything from food insecurity to climate change to energy. We brought 100 countries together to deal with the scourge of fentanyl that is killing more Americans between 18 and 49 than anything else. These are the kinds of things we can do when we’re out in the world bringing counties together, using our diplomacy to try to find answers to problems that people are facing. If the government shuts down, it’s going to be harder to do that.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thanks for coming in this morning.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks, George.