Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Stephanie Busari of CNN International

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Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Stephanie Busari of CNN International

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Abuja, Nigeria

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QUESTION:  Secretary Blinken, thank you so much for joining us.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good to be with you.

QUESTION:  Let’s start with Ethiopia.  Your administration – the President, yourself – has been calling for a ceasefire for months.  And this has not happened thus far.  What – how much time will you give for progress to be made before sanctions are imposed?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, first, I think it’s – it is imperative that the fighting stop and the talking start.  We need to see a halt to military action, to violence.  We need to see all of the parties sit down together at the table to get in place a long-term ceasefire, to start the flow of humanitarian assistance to the parts of Ethiopia that desperately need it, and to come up with a long-term, durable political solution to the differences that have emerged over the last year.

But the question of how much time, I mean, this has to happen as soon as possible because with every passing day, what we’re seeing is an increase in communal tensions that really risk ripping the country apart and spilling over into other countries in the region.  So, there’s tremendous urgency, which is why we are engaged every single day in supporting efforts by the African Union, by others, engaging directly ourselves to try to bring people together to actually start talking.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  So many people have called for Premier – Prime Minister Abiy to be stripped of the Nobel Peace Prize.  What’s your feel?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, those kinds of decisions are up to up to the Nobel Committee, but that’s really not the issue.  I think the issue now is, and as the duly elected leader of the country, for prime minister to play the role that is so vital, which is to try to bring the country together and to, again, end the violence and deal with the with the profound differences that have emerged over the last year; and, also, to make sure that people are getting the help and assistance they need.  That’s his responsibility as the leader of the country.

But it’s also incumbent upon everyone else involved to do the same thing – to engage in good faith – there’s no military solution to the challenges in Ethiopia.  None of the different combatant parties can prevail by military means.  That’s a path to destruction for the country and misery for the people of Ethiopia, who deserve a lot better.  So, I hope that all of the leaders, starting with, again, the leader of the country, the prime minister, will do that to bring people together and work through these problems politically.

QUESTION:  Sure.  Your – you have personally intervened, the President has personally intervened and spoken publicly and privately to Prime Minister Abiy.  Why do you think the approach is not working?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Look, people, leaders in any country around the world are going to have to make assessments of their own interests, their own responsibilities.  There’s a lot that that we can do to encourage, to support to push, to prod.   But ultimately it’s up to them to make these decisions.  And I also think it’s vitally important that – what we’re already seeing, which is African leadership in trying to resolve this crisis, play a central role.

The African Union with former Nigerian President Obasanjo is doing exactly that – shuttling between the different parties and trying to bring them together.  We’re acting in close coordination with him, supporting his efforts, other leaders on the continent, including the president here in – excuse me, in Kenya where I was just in – Kenyatta has also been playing a role.  But having African-led solutions to African problems is also a very important thing, and something that we support.

QUESTION:  Absolutely.  Okay, let’s move to Nigeria and issues close to home here.  The U.S. State Department issued a report in March this year saying that there was no massacre at the Lekki Toll Gate.  But a recently completed judicial panel in Lagos State said that there was a massacre.  Has the U.S. now changed its conclusion, in light of this new report? And are you worried about widespread allegations of human rights abuses in Nigeria?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, I think the – first of all, the fact of the report, of the panel’s work is usually important because it’s bringing vital transparency to what happened, to the violence that took place around the “End SARS” protests and the allegations of abuses by the security forces.  So, I haven’t seen the published report yet.  I think it’ll be – hopefully be coming out very, very soon.

But a couple of things are really important.  As I said, the report itself, done by the state government, but then once it’s out, for there to actually be action on the basis of the report, action as necessary by the states, action by the federal government, and action in the sense of two things.  First, making sure that based on what is documented to have happened, it won’t happen again – so there may be reforms that are necessary – and building or rebuilding trust between the citizens and the security services, between citizens and the state.  That is an obligation of both the state government and the federal government.  Second, accountability.  If there are individuals that – as it emerges from this report – who are responsible for committing abuses, there has to be accountability in terms of those individuals.  That too is vital to rebuilding trust between citizens and the state and the security services.

QUESTION:  Absolutely.  But there have been such widespread allegations and accusations of human rights abuses for many years (inaudible) preceding this incident.  And the U.S. Congress is presently – has raised objections to sales of arms to Nigeria.  Does that change any of your decision to provide arms to Nigeria with these accusations?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, a couple of things.  If there is genuine transparency, accountability, and change that follows from these incidents and from these abuses, I think that’s very important not only to our administration, it’s important to Congress in making judgments about continuing to provide assistance to the security forces.  But the assistance itself is not just the hardware that we might provide – airplanes or helicopters – it’s the software, the human software.  Because one of the things that we’re doing is making sure that as we’re providing equipment to deal with profound security challenges that are faced here in Nigeria – terrorism, criminal activity, other violence – that those who will be using the equipment are trained in a way that makes sure that they are doing it to avoid hurting the good guys even as they’re going after the bad guys, to make sure that the laws of armed conflict are fully in mind.  And that if they make mistakes, they’re corrected and they’re brought to light immediately.

All of that’s very important.  And, of course, we also have laws in place – the Leahy laws, for example – that make sure that if there are units that are – that have committed abuses, we’re not going to provide equipment to those units.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  Will that be invoked against Nigeria, do you think?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, we look in any instance if – and if there are credible allegations that prove out that we believe meet the standard of the law, yes, of course, we’ll apply the law.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Thank you.  So, let’s move on to more domestic matters.  We’re nearing the end of the year, and this – the first year of the administration.  What do you – in your view are the successes and failures in terms of foreign policy of the administration?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, we set out to do a few things at the start of the administration.  One was to re-engage with the international community, with international institutions, with allies and with partners.  And we’ve done that, and we’ve done that with not only tremendous energy, but I would argue real success.  We’re back in the Paris Climate Agreement; we’re back at the World Health Organization; we’re back on the Human Rights Council, the – at the UN.

QUESTION:  And your failures?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:   Just to continue with some of the successes.  (Laughter.)  But also critically, we’ve revitalized our partnerships and relationships with allies and partners around the world – in Europe, in Asia, and here in Africa, which is really why I was here.  I gave a talk a little bit earlier today about our approach to Africa writ large and the desire that President Biden and the United States have to build genuine partnerships across the continent.

Because what we know is this – this is what’s motivating everything we do, the President is doing:  None of the big problems that we face, that our people face – whether it’s climate change, whether it’s the pandemic, whether it’s the impact of emerging technologies on all of our lives – none of those problems can be addressed by the United States acting alone.  We have to do it in collaboration, in coordination, and in cooperation with partners and allies around the world, with international institutions.  And Africa, where – in the next 20 or 25 years, one in four people on earth will be African – this is one of the most vital partnerships that we have to build.  So —

QUESTION:  Let’s go back to where things have perhaps gone wrong.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We’re always looking to see how we can do better across the board —

QUESTION:  Afghanistan?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Across the board – where one of the things we’re doing at the State Department is learning the lessons from Afghanistan – not just the last six months or a year, the last 20 years.  This was the longest war in American history.  What lessons can we draw from that, from the totality of it?  What lessons can we draw from the from the withdrawal?  I think that President Biden ending the longest war in our history, making sure that another generation of Americans wouldn’t go to fight and die in Afghanistan, was a vitally important thing.  But there are always questions about how —

QUESTION:  Many questions.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  — how you do things —

QUESTION:  Absolutely.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  — can you do them more effectively, what do we need to understand from what we did to think about the next time.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much, Secretary Blinken.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Good to be with you.

QUESTION:  Secretary Blinken, thank you so much for joining us.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good to be with you.

QUESTION:  Let’s start with Ethiopia.  Your administration – the President, yourself – has been calling for a ceasefire for months.  And this has not happened thus far.  What – how much time will you give for progress to be made before sanctions are imposed?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, first, I think it’s – it is imperative that the fighting stop and the talking start.  We need to see a halt to military action, to violence.  We need to see all of the parties sit down together at the table to get in place a long-term ceasefire, to start the flow of humanitarian assistance to the parts of Ethiopia that desperately need it, and to come up with a long-term, durable political solution to the differences that have emerged over the last year.

But the question of how much time, I mean, this has to happen as soon as possible because with every passing day, what we’re seeing is an increase in communal tensions that really risk ripping the country apart and spilling over into other countries in the region.  So, there’s tremendous urgency, which is why we are engaged every single day in supporting efforts by the African Union, by others, engaging directly ourselves to try to bring people together to actually start talking.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  So many people have called for Premier – Prime Minister Abiy to be stripped of the Nobel Peace Prize.  What’s your feel?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, those kinds of decisions are up to up to the Nobel Committee, but that’s really not the issue.  I think the issue now is, and as the duly elected leader of the country, for prime minister to play the role that is so vital, which is to try to bring the country together and to, again, end the violence and deal with the with the profound differences that have emerged over the last year; and, also, to make sure that people are getting the help and assistance they need.  That’s his responsibility as the leader of the country.

But it’s also incumbent upon everyone else involved to do the same thing – to engage in good faith – there’s no military solution to the challenges in Ethiopia.  None of the different combatant parties can prevail by military means.  That’s a path to destruction for the country and misery for the people of Ethiopia, who deserve a lot better.  So, I hope that all of the leaders, starting with, again, the leader of the country, the prime minister, will do that to bring people together and work through these problems politically.

QUESTION:  Sure.  Your – you have personally intervened, the President has personally intervened and spoken publicly and privately to Prime Minister Abiy.  Why do you think the approach is not working?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Look, people, leaders in any country around the world are going to have to make assessments of their own interests, their own responsibilities.  There’s a lot that that we can do to encourage, to support to push, to prod.   But ultimately it’s up to them to make these decisions.  And I also think it’s vitally important that – what we’re already seeing, which is African leadership in trying to resolve this crisis, play a central role.

The African Union with former Nigerian President Obasanjo is doing exactly that – shuttling between the different parties and trying to bring them together.  We’re acting in close coordination with him, supporting his efforts, other leaders on the continent, including the president here in – excuse me, in Kenya where I was just in – Kenyatta has also been playing a role.  But having African-led solutions to African problems is also a very important thing, and something that we support.

QUESTION:  Absolutely.  Okay, let’s move to Nigeria and issues close to home here.  The U.S. State Department issued a report in March this year saying that there was no massacre at the Lekki Toll Gate.  But a recently completed judicial panel in Lagos State said that there was a massacre.  Has the U.S. now changed its conclusion, in light of this new report? And are you worried about widespread allegations of human rights abuses in Nigeria?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, I think the – first of all, the fact of the report, of the panel’s work is usually important because it’s bringing vital transparency to what happened, to the violence that took place around the “End SARS” protests and the allegations of abuses by the security forces.  So, I haven’t seen the published report yet.  I think it’ll be – hopefully be coming out very, very soon.

But a couple of things are really important.  As I said, the report itself, done by the state government, but then once it’s out, for there to actually be action on the basis of the report, action as necessary by the states, action by the federal government, and action in the sense of two things.  First, making sure that based on what is documented to have happened, it won’t happen again – so there may be reforms that are necessary – and building or rebuilding trust between the citizens and the security services, between citizens and the state.  That is an obligation of both the state government and the federal government.  Second, accountability.  If there are individuals that – as it emerges from this report – who are responsible for committing abuses, there has to be accountability in terms of those individuals.  That too is vital to rebuilding trust between citizens and the state and the security services.

QUESTION:  Absolutely.  But there have been such widespread allegations and accusations of human rights abuses for many years (inaudible) preceding this incident.  And the U.S. Congress is presently – has raised objections to sales of arms to Nigeria.  Does that change any of your decision to provide arms to Nigeria with these accusations?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, a couple of things.  If there is genuine transparency, accountability, and change that follows from these incidents and from these abuses, I think that’s very important not only to our administration, it’s important to Congress in making judgments about continuing to provide assistance to the security forces.  But the assistance itself is not just the hardware that we might provide – airplanes or helicopters – it’s the software, the human software.  Because one of the things that we’re doing is making sure that as we’re providing equipment to deal with profound security challenges that are faced here in Nigeria – terrorism, criminal activity, other violence – that those who will be using the equipment are trained in a way that makes sure that they are doing it to avoid hurting the good guys even as they’re going after the bad guys, to make sure that the laws of armed conflict are fully in mind.  And that if they make mistakes, they’re corrected and they’re brought to light immediately.

All of that’s very important.  And, of course, we also have laws in place – the Leahy laws, for example – that make sure that if there are units that are – that have committed abuses, we’re not going to provide equipment to those units.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  Will that be invoked against Nigeria, do you think?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, we look in any instance if – and if there are credible allegations that prove out that we believe meet the standard of the law, yes, of course, we’ll apply the law.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Thank you.  So, let’s move on to more domestic matters.  We’re nearing the end of the year, and this – the first year of the administration.  What do you – in your view are the successes and failures in terms of foreign policy of the administration?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, we set out to do a few things at the start of the administration.  One was to re-engage with the international community, with international institutions, with allies and with partners.  And we’ve done that, and we’ve done that with not only tremendous energy, but I would argue real success.  We’re back in the Paris Climate Agreement; we’re back at the World Health Organization; we’re back on the Human Rights Council, the – at the UN.

QUESTION:  And your failures?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:   Just to continue with some of the successes.  (Laughter.)  But also critically, we’ve revitalized our partnerships and relationships with allies and partners around the world – in Europe, in Asia, and here in Africa, which is really why I was here.  I gave a talk a little bit earlier today about our approach to Africa writ large and the desire that President Biden and the United States have to build genuine partnerships across the continent.

Because what we know is this – this is what’s motivating everything we do, the President is doing:  None of the big problems that we face, that our people face – whether it’s climate change, whether it’s the pandemic, whether it’s the impact of emerging technologies on all of our lives – none of those problems can be addressed by the United States acting alone.  We have to do it in collaboration, in coordination, and in cooperation with partners and allies around the world, with international institutions.  And Africa, where – in the next 20 or 25 years, one in four people on earth will be African – this is one of the most vital partnerships that we have to build.  So —

QUESTION:  Let’s go back to where things have perhaps gone wrong.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We’re always looking to see how we can do better across the board —

QUESTION:  Afghanistan?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Across the board – where one of the things we’re doing at the State Department is learning the lessons from Afghanistan – not just the last six months or a year, the last 20 years.  This was the longest war in American history.  What lessons can we draw from that, from the totality of it?  What lessons can we draw from the from the withdrawal?  I think that President Biden ending the longest war in our history, making sure that another generation of Americans wouldn’t go to fight and die in Afghanistan, was a vitally important thing.  But there are always questions about how —

QUESTION:  Many questions.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  — how you do things —

QUESTION:  Absolutely.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  — can you do them more effectively, what do we need to understand from what we did to think about the next time.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much, Secretary Blinken.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Good to be with you.