Blinken has a lot on his plate including tensions with China and the war in Ukraine
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
This past weekend, more flying objects were shot down. This after a Chinese spy balloon was downed earlier in the month. On the heels of that incident, Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled a trip to Beijing that would have been the first by a member of President Biden's cabinet. It's just one of the challenges that America's top diplomat has been managing - among them, a devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria and the one-year mark of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. We spoke with Secretary of State Blinken in a wide-ranging interview about the various crises on his plate, beginning with rising tensions with Beijing.
ANTONY BLINKEN: We're committed to responsibly managing the competition between the United States and China, and we look to Beijing to do the same thing. This particular action, sending the surveillance balloon over the heart of the United States, was an irresponsible act and, of course, a violation of our sovereignty and of international law. So that's what's, I think, critical. But it doesn't take away from the fact that we are committed to finding ways to responsibly manage it, to engage. We believe that diplomacy, engagement, is important.
In fact, this only underscores the importance of having lines of communication. That was in part the purpose of the trip that I had intended to take. But in the context of the surveillance balloon, those weren't the right conditions to go forward with the trip. So when we get those conditions, when China demonstrates that it wants to engage in a responsible manner, then I hope we'll have an opportunity to pursue it.
FADEL: Now, China has said this is no different than what the U.S. has done. They've seen 10...
BLINKEN: We do not send spy balloons over China - period.
FADEL: OK. Let's move on to the earthquake. You know, as we're speaking, I think the death toll now is above 36,000 lives. But it's also highlighted - beyond the tragedy of it all - it's highlighted the neglect and complications of getting help to Syria and Syrians, especially in opposition-controlled areas.
BLINKEN: Well, let me say two things. First, this earthquake is devastating beyond - almost beyond belief. This is a once-in-generations event. And I'm afraid that what we've already seen in terms of lives lost, people injured, livelihoods destroyed is only going to get worse over the days and weeks ahead. At the same time, yes, I very much agree we need to see more of these border crossings opened. And we've been in a situation for years where every year or every six months, we have to go to the United Nations and get a Security Council resolution that authorizes border crossings. Each and every time Russia tries to shut them down.
And we're down to one. That one at Bab al-Hawa was actually disrupted by the earthquake for a day. The roads were so bad that nothing could get through. That's now operating. But there are multiple other crossings. NGOs are able to use them. U.N. aid is not, absent having some kind of authorization. And there's absolutely no excuse, no excuse for not going forward with opening more crossings.
FADEL: So we're speaking one year into the Ukraine war, and you've had to really strike a delicate balance since the beginning. Even before the invasion, the whole conversation was about calibrating this right. No sanctions before, so there was no excuse for an invasion. Then there was sort of a drip-drip of providing weaponry. Russia's not backing down. They're taking more of eastern Ukraine. They plan to take more. They're on the precipice of a new offensive. Where does it go from here?
BLINKEN: Well, let me say two things. First, just to back up for one second.
BLINKEN: From day one, when we saw this coming, and...
BLINKEN: ...We saw this coming months before it happened, we tried to warn the world. We tried to stop the Russians from going forward. We engaged in intense diplomacy with Russia for months. And even as we were doing that, we were quietly making sure that Ukrainians had in their hands the tools they needed, the weapons they needed to repel it. And in fact, that's exactly what happened. We've tried to make sure as the battlefield changed and moved and what was needed changed, that we were able to adapt to that. So I don't think it's been a drip-drip. On the contrary, it's been making sure that the Ukrainians had what they need when they needed it, just to make sure that we're clear on that.
The second thing is that the Ukrainians, because of their extraordinary courage and resilience, have done a remarkable job not just in repelling the aggression, but taking back a significant amount of territory that was taken from them. Right now, it is a, in many ways, horrific war of attrition with terrible losses. And we see huge losses on the Russian side. I think here's the challenge. No one wants peace more and more quickly than the Ukrainian people because they're the ones who are suffering from this aggression. But it also has to be a just peace and a durable peace. It has to be a peace that reflects the principles of the United Nations charter that preserves Ukraine's territorial integrity.
Because if we ratify the seizure of land by another country and say, that's OK, you can go in and take it by force and keep it, that will open a Pandora's box around the world for would-be aggressors that will say, we'll do the same thing and get away with it. Vladimir Putin has to give up on his notion that Ukraine is not its own country, that it needs to be erased from the maps and subsumed into Russia. He's already failed at that. But he seems to be - to continue to believe that that's what he's trying to achieve. And unless he's disabused of that notion, it's hard to see how peace can really move forward.
FADEL: In the time since we spoke to Secretary Blinken, the United Nations announced that Syria has agreed to open two new border crossings from Turkey in an effort to help deliver much needed aid. Secretary Blinken also referred all questions on those unidentified flying objects to the Department of Defense. And one more note - you can hear more reflections on the war in Ukraine, including more from the secretary of state by checking your local stations for NPR's special report, "Russia's War In Ukraine One Year On."
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