QUESTION: Ladies and gentlemen, we are taking advantage of his whirlwind tour of the Middle East and North Africa to receive him for an exclusive interview with Medi 1. We discussed various topics with the US Secretary of State, such as the goals and challenges of his visit to Morocco, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Iranian nuclear agreement, and of course the war in Ukraine.
Hello, Antony Blinken.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Hello.
QUESTION: Thank you for meeting with us here in Rabat, six years after the interview you agreed to grant to Medi 1 TV in June 2016. You have just returned from an unprecedented summit held in the Negev desert in Israel, a little over a year after the Abraham Accords. How did relations evolve after this summit, Mr. Blinken?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: First of all, this is a pretty remarkable picture. A picture that we could not have seen four, five years ago. Not even two years ago. We could not have seen the leaders of Morocco, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, the United States, and Israel together in one picture. And I think this reflects the desire to find the possibility to create together opportunities for the people of each country, because by creating trade links, links between students, between citizens, we will be able to focus together on issues that have an impact on everyday life, such as the investment, the infrastructure.
We are working together on the climate, on global health, and on security issues as well. This is very powerful. Of course, we are not setting aside the future of the Palestinian people and the need to also create a country for the Palestinians and try to invest in their future as well in the meantime. So I think this is very powerful, but it also demonstrates, just like His Majesty the King said, a vision and the courage to no longer accept the barriers of the past, and in fact to overcome them and find a way to bring us together. This is very powerful.
Lastly, what we are going to do together. We talked about this in Negev yesterday, we will focus on concrete projects and on how to act together to meet the needs and desires of the people in each of our countries.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary of State, can we say that today and after this summit in Negev, the relations between the United States and the Gulf countries are at their highest?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We have partnerships that have existed for many years, and those partnerships are essential and important to us, not only in terms of security issues, but the future of our countries as well. I think it was an important time as well to not only strengthen those partnerships, but to strengthen the idea that the United States is invested in those partnerships. This is the message that I wanted to convey to my colleagues.
QUESTION: Very good. Morocco is the third and penultimate leg of your tour, Mr. Secretary of State. It is undeniable that Morocco represents a strategic ally for the United States in the region today, both on security issues, as you so aptly mentioned, and on issues relating to the preservation of peace as well. In your opinion, what is the role that Morocco is called upon to play in the future, both regionally and in Africa?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Morocco is first and foremost an essential partnership for us, and it has existed for a long time. It is of the utmost importance to us because we obviously act on various issues bilaterally. We act together at the regional level where Morocco’s voice and diplomacy have a very significant impact, whether in challenges such as in the Sahel, Libya, but also in Africa, West Africa for example, and what we can achieve together.
It also has an impact at the global level because we are working through this partnership on issues like the COVID pandemic. Morocco has been very successful in the vaccination campaign for example, and we look at what we can learn, what we can achieve together across the world and in Africa. Same goes for the climate, where Morocco has very advanced projects to manage what is really an existential dossier for everyone. So what I see is a partnership that not only acts in the region, but more and more at the global level.
QUESTION: You mentioned the Sahel. The stability in the Sahara sub-region depends on the issue of the Moroccan Sahara. I would like to quote a brief excerpt from the State Department statement on the purpose of your visit to Morocco. I quote: “We reaffirm the importance of respect for the territorial integrity, sovereignty, and national unity of all member states of the United Nations.” Knowing that the sovereignty of Morocco has been recognized by the United States, what are the potential future states in this matter today or rather tomorrow?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We have discussed this issue today, just as we discuss it every time we meet. We find Morocco’s autonomy plan to be a credible, serious, and realistic plan, and I believe that it can respond to the needs and aspirations of the people of Western Sahara. The special envoy of the United Nations Secretary General Staffan de Mistura is conducting very important work, and we support him. We discussed this issue today with my colleague and friend Nasser Bourita. This is something that we will be following up on in the coming weeks.
QUESTION: So in the near future.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We are working on it.
QUESTION: Very good. A new ambassador has just been appointed.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yes.
QUESTION: His Excellency Puneet Talwar. What would be the roadmap in his new assignments in Morocco, Mr. Blinken?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Puneet Talwar is the ambassador who was just nominated and he must be approved by the Senate, but I hope that will happen quickly. He is a friend, a long-time friend, and we have worked together for 20 years. He is very close to President Biden and worked on his staff when they were in the Senate. So they worked together, and I know he will be an exceptional ambassador for the United States and that he will be exceptional for the ties between our two countries. I trust him completely and President Biden trusts him completely.
QUESTION: And based on your experience with Morocco, is there any advice you can give him?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: How fortunate. How fortunate to come here to this remarkable country. How fortunate to be here at a time when our work together is so important. How fortunate to be here at a time when I see all kinds of possibilities to strengthen what we do together and even to broaden our horizons, in the Negev yesterday and across the world tomorrow.
QUESTION: The next and final stop in your tour is our eastern neighbor, Algeria. Given the current situation in Europe and the resulting energy issues, will Algerian gas, and particularly the gas pipeline, be part of the negotiations and discussions that you will have with the Algerian authorities?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Two things. First, you mention the current situation in Europe, and that is very important because, initially, Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine is creating enormous suffering in Ukraine. Half of the children in Ukraine are now displaced and had to flee their homes. Therefore, what is happening is important at that level, but it is also important for two other reasons.
First, there are very important principles at stake, principles that support security and peace throughout the world, not only in Europe, but here as well. When these principles are attacked as they are by Russia, it poses a problem for everyone. The principle that a country cannot change the borders of another country by violence, that a country cannot decide for another regarding its policies and future – that is an issue. But thirdly, we see an impact across the world. We now have problems in food flows because of this Russian aggression in Ukraine, for the exports of agricultural products are now at stake.
QUESTION: Especially wheat on which many African countries depend, including Morocco.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Exactly, especially wheat. Farmers in Ukraine are forced to either fight for their country or flee. The harvest is not completed, and exports are blocked in the ports of south Ukraine. This creates a problem across the world. Energy prices are another problem.
QUESTION: They are exploding.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: They are exploding.
QUESTION: Do you think it is maybe time to seek other alternatives to Russian gas for example, and maybe through the reopening of this Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Europe is very focused on the idea that we now really need to diversify from Russian gas and oil, because Russia is now unfortunately using them as a policy tool. That is mainly the problem, and it is obviously acting in a totally unacceptable way for everyone. So I think when you talk to European countries, you know that they are very focused on the need to diversify.
QUESTION: And the Americans would perhaps plead for this diversification, which would maybe come from these countries.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: A diversification that comes from everywhere in a way, including us. But not only diversification. The shift should also be done with a view to this fight for the climate. This is also very important. We need to make sure that, amid this diversification, we try to advance the climate issue so that we can prevent the world from getting warmer.