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Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Mikaël Ponge of Radio France Internationale (RFI)

Via Translation

QUESTION: Hello, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Hello.

QUESTION: Thank you for answering RFI’s questions.  You recently accused Russia of blackmail regarding the Black Sea Grain Initiative.  Indeed, Moscow demanded several conditions for their participation in the agreement.  Is the United States willing to negotiate?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: First of all, I think we need to put this into the right context.  The agreement, which the Russians have torn up for now, should not have been necessary in the first place.  This agreement became necessary because Russia decided to invade Ukraine, they blocked Ukraine’s grain exports to the world, particularly through the port of Odessa.  Türkiye and the United Nations intervened, and the agreement was implemented over a year ago.   While this agreement was in effect, Ukraine exported more than 30 billion metric tons, excuse me, 30 million metric tons of grain.  To put it in perspective, for example, that is the equivalent of 18 billion loaves of bread.  It has a tremendous impact. Even countries that did not directly receive the grain — and, by the way, 50 percent of the exports, two-thirds of the global wheat exports, went to developing countries — but even the countries that did not directly benefit still enjoyed lower, more moderate prices.  Since Russia tore up the agreement, prices have risen by 10 to 15 percent for everyone, and of course we see the impact on the countries that previously imported grain directly from Ukraine.

QUESTION: So, can this agreement be saved?  It should be saved, if I understand correctly.  But what concessions are the United States willing to make for Moscow to rejoin the agreement?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s not a question of concessions.  Russia claims, for example, that it has problems exporting its own grain, which is false. Russian grain exports over the past year far exceed what Russia was exporting prior to invading Ukraine.  Moreover, Russian exports have reached a record level.  Well, regarding specific points of potential problems, such as with banks, transportation, etc., we have done everything to ensure that these issues are resolved.  For example, I have written letters to our banks, explaining that we absolutely support the export of Russian grain, and that there is nothing to fear from sanctions, which exempt Russian grain, transportation, insurance, etc.  There is now a proposal on the table from the United Nations to Russia to address what it purports to be its concerns.  Russia still has not responded.   Well, actually, there was a response from Russia: they attacked the port of Odessa; they attacked grain in Ukraine; they have destroyed 220,000 metric tons of grain in the past week.  That’s their response.

QUESTION: So, you are saying, Anthony Blinken, that the ball is in Moscow’s court.  Russia has promised to deliver Russian grain free of charge to African countries — six countries in total — to counter the effects of the end of the agreement.  How does the United States plan to respond to this initiative from Moscow?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Again, we need to be very clear.  Russia has apparently expressed the idea of exporting 50,000 metric tons of grain to five or six countries.  Under the agreement, which the Russians tore up, we exported 20 million metric tons to developing countries.  So, 50,000 tons proposed by Russia versus 20 million tons exported under the agreement; there is no comparison.  What Russia is proposing is a drop in the bucket.  It does not address the problem. It won’t stop the rise in prices.  It won’t change the fact that millions of tons of grain were removed from the market and are not available to those in need, especially in developing countries.

QUESTION: Could the United States, in return, draw from their own stocks to deliver grain to African countries?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: That’s what we are doing.  Furthermore, since the start of the Russian invasion in Ukraine, we have provided over $14 billion in additional funding for food security worldwide, especially in African countries.  Last week at the United Nations, I announced an additional $350 million in aid for 11 African countries and Haiti.  So, we are doing as much as we can.  Take the World Food Programme, a very important United Nations program. We support 50 percent of its budget.  Russia contributes less than 1%.  So, this puts into perspective what we are doing and what we have been doing for a long time to ensure food security worldwide, including in emergency situations, but also vital support so that these countries can have long-term productive capacity for themselves.  I described these initiatives at the United Nations last week.  Also, last week in New York at the United Nations, 91 countries signed a declaration to stop using grain and food as a weapon of war.  Unfortunately, that’s what Russia is doing in Ukraine.

QUESTION: One question, Mr. Secretary of State, about the situation in Niger.  What role is the United States currently playing?  Are you participating in the negotiation efforts?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: We are supporting the efforts of ECOWAS in Africa to restore constitutional order in Niger.  So, we are working through diplomatic channels to support their efforts.  I am in regular contact with leaders in Africa, with ECOWAS, with the African Union, and of course, with our partners in Europe, including France.  So, like other countries, we are trying to advance diplomacy to ensure a return to constitutional order.  What we are seeing in Niger is extremely troubling and provides nothing to the country and its people.  On the contrary, the interruption of this constitutional order puts us, and many other countries, in a position where we have to stop our aid, our support, and this will not benefit the people of Niger.

QUESTION: Is negotiation meant to avoid military intervention?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Diplomacy is certainly the preferred way of resolving this situation.  It is ECOWAS’ current approach.  It is our approach.  In any case, we support the efforts of ECOWAS to restore constitutional order.

QUESTION: And will the 1,000 American soldiers present on Nigerien soil stay there or will they be withdrawn?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Listen, I cannot speculate about the future.  Restoring constitutional order is essential.  That is what we are working on at the moment.  For the rest, we will see.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary of State, thank you very much.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Mr. Blinken, for answering our questions and for going a little over the time (inaudible.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN: No, no. I’m still here. And thank you.

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