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Transcript: Secretary Antony Blinken on "Face the Nation," October 31, 2021

Blinken talks U.S. diplomacy amid G20 summit
Blinken talks U.S. diplomacy amid G20 summit 11:55

The following is a transcript of an interview with Secretary of State Antony Blinken that aired Sunday, October 31, 2021, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: We go now to Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Rome. Welcome to FACE THE NATION.

SECRETARY OF STATE ANTONY BLINKEN: Thanks MARGARET,  good to be with you. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: --President Biden said negotiations with Iran are scheduled to resume. When? And how long will you give them before their nuclear program is beyond the point of being able to stop?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, the Iranians have now said that they're coming back to talks toward the end of November. We'll see if they actually do. That's going to be important. But even more important is the fact that here in Rome, the president got together with Chancellor Merkel of Germany, with the U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, with the French President Emmanuel Macron. And we are in very close coordination with our closest partners on dealing with this challenge posed by Iran's nuclear program. And all- all of us are also working with Russia and China. We still believe diplomacy is the best path forward for putting the nuclear program back in the box that had been in under the- the agreement, the so-called JCPOA. But we were also looking at, as necessary, other options if Iran is not prepared to engage quickly in good faith, to pick up where we left off in June, when these talks were interrupted by the change in government in Iran, and to see if we can get back to mutual compliance -- both countries coming back into the agreement as quickly as possible.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Other options, does that include military?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, as we always say, every option is- is on the table, but- but- but here's what's important: Iran, unfortunately, is moving forward aggressively with its- with its program. The time it would take for it to produce enough fissile material for- for one nuclear weapon is getting shorter and shorter. The other thing that's getting shorter is the runway we have, where, if we do get back into compliance with the- the agreement, and Iran gets back into compliance, we actually recapture all of the benefits of the agreement. Iran is learning enough, doing enough so that- that that's starting to be a problem. And that's why it was so important that we- we get together with our close partners in this effort. We are all very much on the same page in terms of the- the path forward. And we'll see if Iran is serious.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Iran carried out a drone attack on U.S. forces in Syria just last week. Yesterday or Friday, the US announced sanctions related to this program. Do you think sanctions are going to stop Iran from trying to kill Americans?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Look, we've seen Iran or its proxies engage in activities that have put Americans and others at risk. And this is- this has been ongoing for- for some time. The president is very much prepared to take whatever action is appropriate at a time and place of our choosing, by whatever means are appropriate, to prevent and stop Iran from engaging in these activities, or its proxies engaging in these activities.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Let's talk about climate and the international efforts underway. The U.N. says that not a single major economy in the world, U.S. among them, is living up to the targets set back in 2015 in that Paris Accord. America is one of the biggest polluters. The president's own domestic agenda faces some uncertain prospects here. How do you lead when America doesn't have its own house in order?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, we are leading on this. The president significantly increased our own ambitions and- and announced a new so-called nationally determined commitment in terms of what we will do to make sure that we get to- to net zero. In addition, he's twice doubled our commitments in terms of financing countries that need help adapting and building resilience to climate change. And John Kerry has been leading our efforts around the world to bring other countries along to raise their ambition. So when we get to Glasgow in just about a day's time, the world comes out together with much stronger commitments that actually get us on the path to keeping to warming that does not exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius.--

MARGARET BREANNAN: But these-

SECRETARY BLINKEN: We are not there yet, we have a lot of work to do--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right, and these international commitments don't have teeth.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: --A lot of work to do. Well, these are voluntary- these are voluntary commitments, but there is -- excuse me -- increasingly, I think an understanding that we're seeing every single day storms, droughts, all sorts of natural occurrences that have been exacerbated by climate change. Conflict driven by climate change, refugees driven by climate change, fights over resources driven by climate change. This is not tomorrow's problem. This is today's problem, and I think there's a much greater consciousness of that. So we have our work cut out for us even between now and the- the next 24 hours when we get to Glasgow. But Glasgow, as important a milestone as it is, is also a launching pad for the next- the next year and beyond. What the president has said is that we're in a decisive decade. If the world does not take steps now, between now and the end of this decade, to do what's necessary to keep us to 1.5 degrees Celsius, then no matter what our commitments are for 2050, we're not going to get there. This is a very important moment, but it's not the final- the final chapter.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What is the most vulnerable part of the world that you are concerned with when it comes to climate as a national security threat?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I think it's- I think this is worldwide. We- what you've seen and there was a- I think, a very important report issued by our intelligence community just- just about a week ago, where in different ways, virtually every one of us is at risk. Now, in a- in a variety of ways too. There are obviously countries that are especially potentially affected, including by extreme weather events that- that are- that are driving things. But I think it's hard- you'd be hard placed to find a place on Earth at this point that isn't affected in some way by climate change. And we're seeing this as well and are in a supply chain- in the supply chain. One of the things, by the way, we're here and in Rome with the G-20, the world's leading economies, about 85% of world GDP. We're coming together under American leadership to deal with the challenges we're facing in our supply chain, which is affecting Americans every single day and their ability to get the- get the products at home that they're looking for.

MARGARET BRENNAN: When we talk about economic reality, though, when you look around the world, the use of fossil fuels is only going up. Europe is facing a potential winter fuel crisis. China has an electricity shortage right now. Here in the United States, the president has called for OPEC to produce more oil. The projection is global energy consumption will jump 50% by 2050. These facts seem very much at odds with the things you're describing as ambition. The rhetoric sounds out of step.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, look, at the same time we're- we're pushing very importantly in the- in the other direction. For example, here at the G20, again, with- with American leadership, we are pressing to get an agreement to make sure that countries don't finance coal projects internationally. This is one of the biggest drivers of emissions around the world. Ending financing for those projects will- will take a serious dent in terms of dealing with- with climate change. As countries not only raise their ambitions, but take the practical steps necessary to realize those ambitions, you're going to see us start to turn this. But you're right. We have to actually do- do what we say and make sure that others that have not made the necessary commitments, including China, now the world's largest emitter, actually step up and do the right thing. And again, this is not a favor to anyone. This is profoundly in the interests of their own people, and it's in the interest of people around the world.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What incentive does China have to act right now? They seem to be increasingly an adversary of the United States.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I think the number one interest is in not being a world outlier. And as I said, their own people would benefit dramatically from China taking the necessary steps on climate change. So would the international community -- to the extent that China cares about it's- how it's seen in the world, it also needs to think about stepping up.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about Afghanistan. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who resigned this month as your envoy, was on this program last Sunday and told us that more could have been done to prevent the collapse of the government in Kabul, including pressing President Ghani harder. Should you personally have done that? Should you have been tougher?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: I was on the phone with- with President Ghani on a Saturday night, pressing him to make sure he was ready to agree with the plan we were trying to put into effect -- to do a transfer of power to- to a new government that would have been led by the Taliban, but then inclusive and included all aspects of Afghan society. And he told me on the phone he was prepared to do that, but if the Taliban wouldn't go along, he was ready to fight to the death. And the very next day, he fled Afghanistan. So I was engaged with President Ghani over many weeks, many months. You saw the- the story in The Wall Street Journal that came out, I think just a few days ago that confirmed again that our intelligence agencies- that none of us saw the- the rapid implosion of the government and the security forces. No one anticipated that would happen over the course of 11 days. 

(CROSSTALK) 

MARGARET BRENNAN: That report also said that members of the Afghan government had predicted their own demise. So there are some conflicting- conflicting elements to some of the reporting about this, but on being able to push harder. Do you think you did everything you could? Is that what I hear you saying?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Listen, one of the things we're doing at the- at the State Department is reviewing everything that we did over- going back to- to 2020, when the when the agreement was initially reached with the- with the Taliban under the under the previous administration, including the actions we took during our administration, because we have to learn every possible lesson from the last couple of years, but also, by the way, from the last 20 years. This has been something that's gone- gone through multiple administrations. But the bottom line is this: we went to Afghanistan 20 years ago for one reason -- to get those who attacked us on 911, and we succeeded in that effort. Bin Laden was brought to justice a decade ago. Al Qaeda, the group that attacked us, was put in a position where it couldn't engage in those kinds of attacks anymore. This was America's longest war. President Biden ended the longest war. He made sure that another generation of Americans would not have to go to fight and die in Afghanistan. And I think when all of this settles, that's profoundly what the American people want, and it's in our interest. Meanwhile, we are doing everything we can to make good on our ongoing commitments, including to Afghans at- at risk that we want to help. And we'll also learn every lesson we can from the decisions we made.

MARGARET BRENNAN: About those Afghans at risk, last question: A group of about 100 aid groups sent you and the White House a letter asking for more to be done, saying there are tens of thousands of at-risk Afghans who helped the United States when we were engaged there. Why isn't more being done? What can be done?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: We're at this 24-7. We have teams of several hundred people at the State Department and also in other parts of our government working on this every single day, starting with any remaining Americans, and, of course, Afghans at risk. And we're continuing to bring people out of Afghanistan. That's happening on an almost- on an almost daily basis. And we will- we will work it until we make good on our- on our commitments. We have a program that, you know, involves those who applied for special immigrant visas. Those are Afghans who worked closely with us, with- with the defense, with the military, with our diplomats, we're working on that--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is it tens of thousands?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: --And we will keep working on it as long as we have to. The people in the- in the special immigrant visa program? It's a complicated thing, too complicated probably to go into in the limited time that we have, but we've got about somewhere in the vicinity of seven or eight thousand people who have clearly qualified for the program, and in one way or another, we're working to get credentialed and to bring out, along with their- their immediate family members.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Mr. Secretary, thank you for your time today.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Great to be with you, MARGARET, thank you.

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