MR PATEL: Hi there, everybody. Good afternoon and thanks so much for joining us today for this preview call to preview Secretary Blinken’s trip to Germany, Türkiye, and Greece. This call will be on the record but embargoed until the call’s conclusion. Joining us today we have our Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Dr. Karen Donfried. We of course will have some time for Q&A towards the end, but first I will turn it over to Assistant Secretary Donfried for some opening thoughts.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: Well, good afternoon to everybody. Thanks, Vedant, and thanks to all of you who are taking the time to join us today. I was thinking back at this time last year, and we were then on the cusp of the Kremlin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Despite our efforts and international efforts to urge Moscow to de-escalate and choose diplomacy then, as we all know, Putin rejected that approach and instead deliberately chose to once again invade Ukraine’s sovereign territory.
Putin expected a quick victory, but he underestimated the resolve, capability, and bravery of the people of Ukraine. Putin also underestimated U.S. resolve and the unwavering unity of our allies and partners to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes. The United States rallied the world to support the people of Ukraine as they defend their freedom and democracy against Russia’s brutal war.
One year later, the United States and our allies and partners remain in lockstep to support Ukraine, to hold Russia accountable, and to deter Russian aggression against NATO Allies. Putin thought he would break the West and roll over Ukraine. He was wrong. One year on, our commitment has not waned.
Secretary Blinken will travel to Germany, Türkiye, and Greece from February 16 to 22nd. On February 16, he will travel to Germany to attend the Munich Security Conference, where he will participate in a series of bilateral and multilateral meetings. Secretary Blinken will emphasize the United States commitment to transatlantic security and a rules-based international order.
On February 19, Secretary Blinken will visit Incirlik Air Base in Türkiye to see firsthand U.S. efforts to assist the Turkish authorities in responding to the devastation caused by the February 6th earthquakes. He will then travel to Ankara to further our dialogue and cooperation with senior Turkish officials. The Secretary will express our sincerest condolences to Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu for the victims of the earthquakes and discuss how the United States can strengthen our ongoing effort to provide assistance in coordination with the Turkish Government. Secretary Blinken will express our gratitude to the Government of Türkiye for reopening the border so aid can flow into northwest Syria.
The Secretary will also discuss ways to further strengthen our partnership with Türkiye as a longstanding and valued NATO Ally. Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Cavusoglu will hold a joint press availability together. On Monday, Secretary Blinken will visit Anitkabir to participate in a wreath-laying ceremony in honor of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
The Secretary will arrive in Athens, Greece the evening of February 20 and meet with Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis. On Tuesday, Secretary Blinken will hold a bilateral meeting and joint press availability with Greek Foreign Minister Dendias. Together they will launch the Fourth U.S.-Greek Strategic Dialogue. Also on Tuesday, Secretary Blinken will meet with former Greek Prime Minister Tsipras. During his meetings in Athens, Secretary Blinken will discuss defense and security cooperation, energy security, and our countries’ shared commitment to defend democracy with our key NATO Ally.
Thanks so much, and I look forward to answering your questions.
MR PATEL: Thanks so much, Assistant Secretary. Operator, could you please remind our reporters on how they may ask a question in the queue?
OPERATOR: Yes, thank you. And ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press 1 then 0 on your telephone keypad. You may withdraw your question at any time by repeating the 1, 0 command. If using a speakerphone, please pick up the handset before press the numbers. Once again, if you have a question, you may press 1 then 0 at this time.
MR PATEL: Thanks so much. Let’s start with Matt Lee from the Associated Press.
MR PATEL: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Can you hear – yeah, you can all hear me? Ok. Thanks, Assistant Secretary. I was wondering two things briefly. One is that, unless I missed it and I got distracted for a second, but is there no confirmed meeting with Erdogan in Türkiye?
And secondly, does the Secretary have any stops before Munich? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: So, Matt, thanks for both those questions. Great to hear your voice. So on the Türkiye piece, I’m not giving you a full laydown of the schedule, but what I’ve shared with you is what we’re sharing at this point. And then the schedule as it stands today – as you know, schedules shift, but at present we are going to the Munich Security Conference as the first stop.
MR PATEL: Thanks so much. Let’s next go to the line of Will Mauldin with The Wall Street Journal.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you so much, Assistant Secretary. I just wanted to ask at the Munich Security Conference if Secretary Blinken will sit down with Wang Yi from China or whether you or other members of the State Department are trying to set up such a meeting. And then also, just any clarity you have on Matt’s comments, whether it’s possible that Secretary Blinken will meet President Erdogan of Türkiye or whether that’s not in the cards. Thank you so much.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIEND: Hey, Will, thanks for those questions. So to start on the Munich piece, so as you can imagine, there are going to be lots of opportunities for bilateral engagements at the Munich Security Conference. That agenda is still taking shape. So I don’t have specific announcements on that, but we’ll surely have more to say in the coming days.
And then just to give you a better sense of the Munich Security Conference piece, we do know the Secretary will be participating in a panel discussion. We feel that it’s probably for the Munich Security Conference to announce that schedule, so he will have a speaking role there. And then also he will be participating in a G7 meeting that will likely have a strong focus on Russia’s war against Ukraine, and then he’ll also have opportunity for a joint meeting with his British, French, and German colleagues there, just to give you more of a sense of the Munich piece.
And then on the Türkiye piece, it’s really what I shared with Matt, that there are other parts of the agenda when he’ll be in Türkiye. But what I shared with you at the outset is what we’re in a position to announce right now. So thanks.
MR PATEL: Thanks so much. We’ll next go to Leon Bruneau with AFP.
QUESTION: Yeah, hi. Thanks for doing this. Actually, my questions were raised by the previous – my previous colleagues. It was both on Wang Yi and what bilaterals are going to happen in Munich specifically, and also on the other one. So I heard your answers and I take it that you’re not in a position yet to confirm any of those bilaterals. Is that correct?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIEND: Yeah. Thanks for reiterating the questions, but yes, that is correct.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.
MR PATEL: Let’s next go to Nike Ching with Voice of America.
QUESTION: Thank you so much for this call briefing. Can you hear me?
MR PATEL: Yes. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Great. First question: Should we expect a major announcement on the security assistance to Ukraine during or after the Munich Security Conference? And in Greece, will the Secretary speak about the role of Greece in supporting the EU integration process of North Macedonia around – and other Balkans countries, given the tensions in the region and the significant Russia propaganda? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIEND: Well, thanks for both those questions. On your first one about a major announcement of security assistance, what you’ve seen over the past year-plus is the Biden administration providing a very significant amount of security assistance to Ukraine. It’s now around $30 billion. Just yesterday we had the most recent meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, and that’s where you saw about 50 countries come together and coordinate their security assistance to Ukraine going forward. And of course the Ukrainians participate in that as well.
So no, I wouldn’t be anticipating any major announcement at the Munich Security Conference, but I do want to highlight the amount of aid that’s been given, not just by the U.S. but collectively to those countries that have been supporting Ukraine in defending itself against Russian aggression.
And then on your question about Greece and North Macedonia, of course Greece is a valued NATO Ally of ours. It also is a key member of the European Union. And we’ve seen Greece consistently play a role in supporting the European Union’s enlargement more broadly in the Balkans. And so on North Macedonia, certainly Greece has been a champion of North Macedonia and other Western Balkans countries in terms of their pursuing that Euro-Atlantic future and seeking membership in the European Union.
And I think – I can’t tell you exactly what the Secretary will discuss with his counterparts in Greece, but I could imagine that would be one topic. I do think that many of the issues on the broader agenda, such as Ukraine and Russia, will surely loom large as will, of course, the earthquakes that Greece’s neighbor, Türkiye, and Syria have experienced last week. So I think there are many issues that the Secretary will be discussing with our Greek Allies. Thanks so much.
MR PATEL: Thank you so much. Let’s next go to the line of John Hudson with The Washington Post.
QUESTION: Thanks, Dr. Donfried. I appreciate it. Can you talk a little bit about what the U.S. priorities are going to be should there be an opportunity to engage with the Chinese? I know that’s not – this is not a moment to confirm any bilateral meetings. And then more to – specifically to your portfolio, what will be the conversations that the U.S. will be having with European partners when it comes to a sort of cohesive strategy on China? Can you say a little bit about what will be on the agenda with the European partners in terms of getting on the same page?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: So John, I’m happy to take the second question, which does, as you noted, really fall squarely into my responsibilities. The first question I’ll pass to Vedant because I think he may be better positioned to answer that about the broader U.S.-PRC relationship. But if we think about the transatlantic relationship and the role that the PRC plays today, as you know I’ve been someone who’s worked on Europe and on transatlantic relations for a long time, and I’m really struck by how close our views of the PRC are today compared to, let’s say, five years ago. And I think a lot of our European partners were seeing the PRC primarily as a place for the export of European products. And when China took on its Belt and Road Initiative and Europe suddenly realized that China was coming to Europe and buying up strategic critical infrastructure, it changed their perspective on China.
And there’s been a really important conversation happening across the Atlantic about how we see the relationship with the PRC. And most recently, what we’ve seen over the past year – actually, it was just about this time last year, a little earlier, that we saw China and Russia declare their no-limits partnership. And I do think we’ve seen that strategic alignment between Xi and Putin continue, and so we’re also focused on that relationship in the context of Russia’s war against Ukraine. And as you know, we’ve been very clear, from President Biden to Secretary of Blinken to all officials who engage with their Chinese counterparts, to say that we understand that there’s this strategic alignment between the PRC and Russia, but if we were to see China providing material support to Russia in its war against Ukraine, that would fundamentally change our relationship with the PRC and have significant consequences for it.
So I think on these multiple levels, the relationship between the U.S. and Europe is a very different one than it was five years ago. And you have in the Biden administration certainly a President who believes deeply that the U.S. is stronger when it is meeting global challenges with its allies and partners. During the campaign and from day one in the White House, President Biden has given priority to revitalizing our alliances and partnerships. And I think you’ve seen that group of like-mindeds, of allies and partners coming together in terms of how to best meet the China challenge as well.
But Vedant, let me pass the baton to you because you may have some comments on that first question that John had. Thanks.
MR PATEL: Thanks so much, Assistant Secretary. John, you saw Ned speak to this at the briefing today, as well as Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in some of her engagements this week, including today. Our focus, even in light of the discovery of this high-altitude surveillant asset last week, has been to manage this relationship responsibly. That has continued to always be our focus, and Secretary Blinken’s intended visit to the PRC was always meant to be a follow-on to the meeting that President Biden and President Xi had on the margins of the G20 summit in Bali. And so we’ll continue to keep those lines of communications open and, as Secretary Blinken and others have said, we’ll be in a place to revisit a potential trip when the conditions allow.
We will now go to the line of Shannon Crawford with ABC News.
QUESTION: Two questions. One, during the press briefing Ned pushed ahead a little bit and said that he anticipated that Secretary Blinken might be in a position to speak to what more the U.S. can do to help the people of Türkiye and Syria recover from the earthquake. I was wondering if you could share any details on that. And secondly, I was wondering if any of the countries that you do have bilateral or multilateral engagements scheduled with for the upcoming trip, if they’ve expressed interest in further discussing China’s surveillance program and the information you’ve shared. Thanks.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: So, thanks, Shannon, for both those questions. And again, the second one I’ll probably turn over to Vedant. But on the first one, there’s no question in my mind that the destructive earthquakes that hit Türkiye last week will be uppermost on everyone’s minds when the Secretary is in Türkiye. And as you know, the United States immediately responded to that tragedy in both Türkiye and Syria. We deployed the Disaster Assistance Response Teams within hours, and as you know, we’ve also provided 85 million in our initial response. We’ve deployed USAID’s urban search and rescue team that has almost 200 members, 12 dogs, 170,000 pounds of specialized equipment, and this new funding will support USAID’s broader response efforts. So that is an operation that is taking place out of Incirlik, and that is why the Secretary thought that it would be useful to make that stop in Incirlik. And I will say it was welcomed by our Turkish allies, to bring attention to the enormity of the tragedy that we see playing out in Türkiye today. And I know we’re now over 40,000 who have lost their lives in both countries. And certainly in the case of Türkiye, this is the worst earthquake that Türkiye has ever experienced. So I think all of our hearts go out to our friends and allies in Türkiye who are trying to manage a really tragic situation.
So let me stop there and I’ll pass the baton to Vedant. Thanks.
MR PATEL: Thanks so much, Shannon. Your second question’s a little bit out of the – outside of the scope of this preview call, but I will just reiterate what many have said from across this administration in the past week, that we of course remain in close touch with our allies and partners on the PRC surveillance program, and have of course – will continue to remain in touch on that matter.
Let’s next go to the line of Michail Ignatiou from Hellas.
QUESTION: Yes, hello. My question is this: Is the Secretary going to try to fix a dialogue between Athens and Ankara after the extraordinary move by Greece to help Türkiye after the earthquake and, of course, after the visit of the Greek Prime[i] Minister Dendias to Türkiye? As you maybe know, after the earthquake, Türkiye stopped all the threats against Greece, and it’s an important move. And also, if you can’t make a comment, because as you know, Greece and the Greek people rush to help Türkiye after the earthquakes. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: Well, thanks so much for your questions. First, just let me step back and say of course Türkiye and Greece are both very much valued allies of the United States. As you know, the United States also has a presence in the Aegean, and so we are always interested in ensuring that relations between our two allies are as strong as they can be. And I think both countries have played important roles in supporting Ukraine against Russian aggression, which has been so much of the focus of the past year.
You referenced Foreign Minister Dendias’s visit to Türkiye, and I will say it was moving to see Foreign Minister Dendias and Foreign Minister Cavusoglu together be looking at the horrible destruction that the earthquake wreaked in Türkiye. And I think, frankly, it reminded all of us of our shared humanity. And I think that really is what is called for at this moment. That’s what allies are for, that’s what friends are for. When one of us is in trouble, the rest of us go and do our best to help.
So let me stop with that. Thanks so much.
MR PATEL: Thank you so much. I think we’ve got time for one final question. So let’s go to the line of Nadia Bilbassy with Al Arabiya.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Actually, my question was about whether the Secretary was going to meet with partners of the U.S. who are delivering aid to the earthquake victims in Türkiye, and whether will you announce a new assistant to Syrians on this trip. But I think the assistant secretary mentioned part of it in my – in the previous question.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: Yeah. Thanks for that question. And yes, the stop in Incirlik is very much focused on the relief that we are providing to Türkiye, and really to help draw attention to the enormity of the tragedy that Türkiye has suffered in the wake of the February 6th earthquakes. So that visit will be focused on, of course, expressing sincere condolences to our Turkish friends who have suffered these losses, and really to put a spotlight on the assistance efforts. And yes, we’re focusing on U.S. efforts, but of course we want to applaud everyone around the world who has stepped in at this critical moment to provide that support to Türkiye as well as to those living in Syria. So that will very much be a focus of the Sunday agenda in Türkiye.
So thanks very much.
MR PATEL: Thanks so much again, everybody, for joining today’s preview call. As a reminder, this call was on the record but embargoed until the call’s conclusion, which will be momentarily. Thank you again, and we’ll talk to you all very soon.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: Thanks, all, for joining. Thanks, Vedant. Bye-bye.