Secretary Antony J. Blinken Remarks to the Press, Chania-Greece

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken speaks with reporters before leaving Crete, Greece. January 6, 2024. (Official State Department photo by Chuck Kennedy)

January 6, 2024

Chania, Crete

Secretary Antony J. Blinken Remarks to the Press, Chania-Greece

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good evening, everyone.  So we had, I think, a very productive day of meetings both in Türkiye and here in Greece with both our Turkish and Greek Allies and partners.  We talked about our NATO Alliance, the tremendous solidarity that we have and continue to have in supporting Ukraine against the Russian aggression.  We talked a little about steps to prepare for the NATO Summit that will take place in Washington early this summer.  And we also focused on what both countries have done through the leadership of President Erdogan and Prime Minister Mitsotakis to bring Greece and Türkiye closer together, including the summit meeting that both leaders had just last month.

In Türkiye, we also focused extensively on what Türkiye can do, using its influence, using its ties, to help prevent the conflict in the Middle East from spreading.  And we also talked about the role that Türkiye can play both in the day after for Gaza in terms of the challenging questions of governance, Palestinian-led governance, security, rebuilding, as well as the work that it can do with others to try to produce more lasting, durable peace and security in the region.  In – and of course, in Türkiye we also talked about the final steps in the process to ratify Sweden’s accession to NATO in the coming weeks.

In Greece, here in Souda Bay, first I just want to really express my appreciation to Prime Minister Mitsotakis for welcoming us into his home.  That was very, very meaningful.  Greece, the United States – I’ve been doing this for 30 years.  I can’t think of a time when the partnership, the friendship between our countries, has been stronger.  And we see that manifested in all sorts of ways every single day.

One way that’s being manifested right now is Greece’s participation in Operation Prosperity Guardian to try to ensure that we have freedom of navigation and freedom of commerce in the Red Sea, which is being challenged almost daily by the Houthis.  And Greece is playing a vital role in that along with many other countries.  And we had discussions about that, as well as the remarkable work that’s done here at Souda Bay to make sure that we continue to have a strong platform for ensuring that we can, as necessary, deter aggression around the world.

Leaving – we’re leaving Greece tonight.  We’re now heading back to the Middle East.  This is the fourth time since October 7th that I’ll be in the region, and we’ll be there at what remains an incredibly difficult time for the region in the wake of the October 7th attack on Israel.

As we’ve said from day one, we have an intense focus on preventing this conflict from spreading, and a big part of the conversations we’ll be having over the coming days with all of our allies and partners is looking at the steps that they can take, using the influence and ties that they have to do just that, to make sure that this conflict doesn’t spread.

Second, we’ll be looking at what we can do to maximize the protection for civilians, maximize humanitarian assistance getting in to them, and also to get hostages out of Gaza.  The situation for men, women, and children in Gaza remains dire.  Far too many Palestinians have been killed, especially children.  Far too many remain incredibly challenged in terms of their access to food, to water, to medicine, to the essentials of life.  So it’s imperative that we see a substantial and sustained increase in the assistance that’s getting to them as well as the protection of civilians in general.

Third, we will focus on the steps that remain to make sure that October 7th never happens again and that we get on a path to a sustainable, peaceful, secure future for everyone.  That starts with the work that’s going to be necessary in Gaza itself to rebuild, to have security, to have Palestinian-led governance, and it goes to the longer path, a broader path, toward durable peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians alike, which for us, as has been the case from day one of this administration, has to include the realization of Palestinian political rights and notably a Palestinian state with security assurances for Israel.

We’ll talk about what the United States can and will do in all of these areas to advance both what needs to happen in Gaza and more broadly what has to happen to build durable peace and security.  We’ll also be talking about what all of our allies and partners can do.  What are they prepared to do to assist in this process?

These are not necessarily easy conversations.  There are different perspectives, different needs, different requirements.  But it is vital that we engage in this diplomacy now both for the sake of the future of Gaza itself, and more broadly for the sake of the future for Israelis and Palestinians and for the region as a whole.  There is clearly a strong desire among the majority of people in the region for a future that is one of peace, of security, of de-escalation of conflicts, of integration of countries, and that’s one path.  That’s one future.  The other future is an endless cycle of violence, a repetition of the horrific events that we’ve seen, and lives of insecurity and conflict for people in the region, which is what virtually no one wants.

So the work that needs to be done to get on that first path, the steps that need to be taken, the commitments that countries need to make – this is what we’ll be talking about in the days ahead.

Happy to take some questions.  Matt, over to you.

QUESTION:  Yes, yes, thank you.  Mr. Secretary, in terms of today, what specifically did you ask for or did you explore with the Turks as it relates to, one, preventing the spread, de-escalation of the conflict that you’d like to see them do; and then second, and then in terms of the day after, and especially on the security and reconstruction?  Did you get any kind of commitment from the Turks that they’re at least willing to consider – even if they didn’t come out and say that they would definitely do something?  So would they do those?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So —

QUESTION:  And then the same thing with the Greeks, or was that less of an issue with the Greeks?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So Matt, what I can tell you is this.  I think from our conversations today it’s clear that Türkiye is prepared to play a positive, productive role in the work that needs to happen the day after the conflict ends, and as well more broadly in trying to find a path to sustainable peace and security.  We had conversations about – about that.  I can’t go into any details except to say, again, they’re clearly prepared to play a productive role.

I think they’re also prepared, as they have been, to use the ties, the influence they have, the relationships they have with some of the critical players and some of the critical countries in the region, to do everything possible to de-escalate and to prevent the conflict from spreading.  Türkiye can play a really vital role in doing that.  That was a big part of our conversation today.  They clearly have a shared interest with us in doing just that, and I’m confident in these conversations that they’re going to make every possible effort.

QUESTION:  In terms of Greece?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  And in terms of the Greeks, we were very focused on a couple of things but particularly the challenge that’s being posed right now by the Houthis to shipping.  I mean, keep this in mind:  90 percent of global commerce every single day is done via shipping.  And when you have a threat that we have now to shipping in the Red Sea by the Houthis, a threat that’s being posed not to any one country but quite literally to dozens of countries who are affected, and in some ways to the entire international community because this has a big effect when shipping is made more difficult.

When ships have to reroute to avoid danger, when insurance rates go up, when the cost of shipping goes up, that means that people are going to be paying more for heating, it’s going to mean they’re going to be paying more for food, we’re going to have disrupted supply chains.  This is a challenge to countries around the world.  And that was reflected in the fact that we had more than 40 countries sign a clear condemnation of what the Houthis are doing.

Greece is playing a critical role, and of course it’s one of the leading shipping countries in the world, so it has a real incentive to uphold this international norm protecting freedom of navigation, protecting freedom of shipping.  It’s participating in Operation Prosperity Guardian.  It’s dedicated a frigate to that.  And that was one of the focuses of our conversation today.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, you talked about preventing this conflict from spreading.  Today, Hizballah launched dozens, maybe even as many as 60, missiles into northern Israel.  Israel responded with air strikes on Hizballah targets in southern Lebanon.  Is this exactly the kind of expansion, escalation that you’re talking about, and how is the United States going to respond to this and talk to U.S. allies to handle this?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We’ll be talking to all of our partners, including of course Israel, about this.  From day one, as I said, we’ve been working to make sure the conflict doesn’t spread.  One of the areas of real concern is the border between Israel and Lebanon, and we want to do everything possible to make sure that we don’t see escalation there.

But it’s very important that Israelis have security in the north.  Tens of thousands of people have been forced from their homes in northern Israel because of the threat posed by Hizballah.  We are looking at ways diplomatically to try to defuse that challenge, that tension, so that people can return to their homes, that they can live in peace and security, and this is something that we’re very actively working on.  It’s going to be part of the discussions we have over the coming days not just in Israel but some of the other countries concerned.

QUESTION:  Did you specifically talk about today’s attack in your meetings with the Turkish leaders?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Not in any detail, but we were focused on a whole series of challenges that we have to stability, to peace and security, and again, the role that Türkiye can play in trying to make sure that we don’t see escalation, that we prevent the conflict from spreading, that other fronts are not open.

And I think it’s clearly in the interest of virtually all of the countries in the region to make sure that that doesn’t happen, and we want to make sure that countries who feel that way are also using their ties, using their influence, using their relationships with some of the actors that might be involved, to keep a lid on things to make sure that we’re not seeing the spread of conflict, escalation.  It’s clearly a strongly shared interest, and again, one we’re really going to focus on over the coming days.

QUESTION:  Isn’t it inevitable —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION:  — after the attack in Beirut?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Andrea.

QUESTION:  Isn’t it an inevitable reaction to the attack in Beirut and the assassination?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Nothing is inevitable because countries are always going to calculate what their interests are.  And I think again, from the perspective of Israel, it’s clearly not interested and does not want escalation.  That’s been made clear, again, from the start.  But they also are – have to be fully prepared to defend themselves and defend the rights of their people to live in their own country in their own homes.

But we know that this is not what Israel wants or seeks.  It’s not what we want or seek.  I know from Lebanon’s perspective, it’s not in the interest of Lebanon to see any escalation.  So the question is, in large part, Hizballah and what actions it will take, and how countries that have a relationship with Hizballah that may have some influence can use those relationships, use that influence, to try to keep things in check, and meanwhile, for us to use our own diplomacy to see if we can find a way to produce some more sustained calm in northern Israel and southern Lebanon.

Thanks.  Thank you.