Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Romain Chanson of Radio France Internationale (RFI)

(As translated.)

QUESTION: Anthony Blinken, hello.


QUESTION: Your visit to South Africa is coming to an end, you will then be expected in the Democratic Republic of Congo and then in Rwanda. You have read the United Nations report which documents the participation of Rwandan soldiers in attacks against Congolese soldiers, in the Congo, in support of the M23 rebels in the province of North Kivu. Rwanda rejected the findings of this report. Do you, Antony Blinken, confirm the conclusions of this United Nations report?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Above all, I will speak with both the DRC, its leaders, and Rwanda as well, to try to help those who want to put an end to the conflict, to the violence, who want to improve the lives of all those who live in the Congo, in eastern Congo, and, above all, to support African initiatives and efforts, including efforts, including the efforts of the current outgoing President Kenyatta of Kenya, within the framework of a process in Nairobi, to try, precisely, to find a peaceful future in eastern Congo. I will most likely have more to say after my talks with the two presidents, but, for us, it is above all a question of how to be useful in preventing not only the continuation of this violence, but also its escalation.

QUESTION: Thus, on this same RFI radio, the Congolese Minister of Foreign Affairs Christophe Lutundula declared that the United States has a role to play, precisely, in the resolution of this conflict. But he also calls for sanctions from the international community. Are you ready, Antony Blinken, for sanctions or, in any case, to appeal to the international community? And if not, what specific role can the United States play?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Initially, it is above all the role of our diplomacy to try to support, precisely, the efforts that are already under way, including by SADC, including by the Nairobi Initiative, and to try to see how we can support these efforts, help them and find a diplomatic solution to avoid further violence. As for what happens next, that remains to be seen, but above all I want to highlight the role of our diplomacy in trying, with African partners, to try to put an end to the conflict and in a lasting way, because it is a crisis that repeats itself. and I think we have to find a truly lasting solution.

QUESTION: Thus, during this press conference with the South African Minister for International Relations, the question of the lack of coherence of the United States was raised, capable both of condemning and of asking for sanctions during certain conflicts and during others, to shut up. Is that the case? Concretely, does the case of Congo and Rwanda illustrate the double standard of the United States?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: I think you have to look at each challenge in its specific details. We try to use, depending on the challenge, the tools that we deem the most appropriate, the most effective. Things are never the same in one case or the other, but indeed, you still have to try to stay true to your principles, and to stay true to the goals you have set for yourself. It is about trying to achieve peace where there is conflict, avoiding conflict where there is peace.

QUESTION: Antony Blinken, you will travel to Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Doesn’t the resolution of the conflict between the two countries simply, precisely, consist in asking President Paul Kagame directly to stop supporting the M23?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: In any case, I think that we must stop any type of support for armed groups, whatever they are. This is not a way to advance peace, security and stability, quite the contrary. And so, anyway, we’ll talk about it with the president.

QUESTION: In Rwanda, there is an American resident who is detained. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison. This is Paul Rusesabagina. He is known to have been the inspiration for the film “Hotel Rwanda” but also to be an opponent of President Paul Kagame. Are you going to ask for his release?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yes. In any case, alas, in quite a number of countries around the world, there are American citizens and American residents who are unjustly detained. For me, it is a priority, wherever it is, to try to work for their return to the United States.

QUESTION: Your trip to Africa takes place after that of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Does the United States fear a loss of its influence on the African continent?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: I am not here because there is competition with someone else. This is not a trip, not just a trip or an American engagement in Africa because of another country. But, on the contrary, because the future of the world will be defined in a very important way in Africa. By 2050, one in four citizens of this planet will be African, by 2025, 50% of the African population will be under 25 years old. So, it is the future, very concretely, which is being decided in Africa. And so what we’re doing here, we’re building partnerships, trying to work together on challenges that have a real impact on the lives of our fellow citizens, whether it’s the COVID challenge, whether it’s the climate, whether it’s or the impact of new technologies on the lives of our fellow citizens. And so, for us, it is not at all a question of imposing a choice, but rather of offering a choice to the countries of Africa. And we have a very positive program for that future. I had the opportunity here in South Africa to talk a bit more about our strategy for Africa and I will talk more about it on my future trips.

QUESTION: It is a trip during which the war in Ukraine was much discussed. You are in a country which precisely refuses to speak of invasion. Did you have this frank discussion with Naledi Pandor, the South African minister for international relations? Have you tried to move the lines?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: We often talk about it. It’s not the first time, but I think we are together on the most important principles. What is happening in Ukraine is not only an aggression against the Ukrainian people, it is an aggression against the principles which are the basis of the international system, which are the basis of the Charter of the United Nations, which is very important to South Africa as well as countries across Africa. The idea that a country does not have the right to change the borders of another country by force, the idea that a country does not have the right to seize the territory of another country , this is something that resonates in Africa, given the history of Africa.

This imperialist aggression by Vladimir Putin in Ukraine is something that has links with the history of many African countries. Moreover, there are consequences in Africa and in the world, especially around food, where there was already a global crisis, because of the climate, and after the COVID, and now with the conflict. Since Russian aggression in Ukraine has exacerbated the food crisis, it is being felt here in Africa. In my opinion, it is up to us to show precisely all that we are doing to deal with the crisis with the African countries, namely very significant humanitarian aid since the Russian aggression, to the tune of 6 billion dollars almost since February, but above all, an investment in the agricultural future of Africa, to ensure the self-sufficiency of production so that, if in the future Africa has to face another crisis, it can overcome it more easily.

QUESTION: Antony Blinken, he asked about a bill that was passed in the House of Representatives in the United States, which will force or will force, maybe I’m wrong, your department to come up with a strategy to , I quote, “counter the [malicious] … Activities [and influence] of [Russia] in Africa.” This bill was strongly criticized by Naledi Pandor, who called it offensive and insulting. What would this law look like if it were really to be passed? How would it be applied?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: I don’t want to get into a hypothetical discussion about a bill that may or may not be updated. But, as far as we are concerned, as I have just said, our engagement in Africa is not because another country is engaging here; it is because it is in our deep interest to have a partnership with Africa for the future, because Africa represents the future. And, for us, there is no challenge that has an impact on the lives of our fellow citizens, be it COVID, be it the climate, be it new technologies, that does not require cooperation between country. We cannot meet these challenges alone. More than ever, it is necessary to find ways and models of cooperation. It’s true all over the world, it’s true in Africa. So, for us, it is not a question of competition with another country in Africa, it is a question of building a common future, which will benefit the American people and I am also thinking of the African people.

QUESTION: It has been seven years since relations with South Africa were renewed in this way, this is what the Minister for International Relations said. Did the previous administration‘s African policy, Donald Trump’s insulting statements, really hurt you, your administration, in your attempts to reconnect on the African continent?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: I am focused on the present, on the future. The past doesn’t matter. What is important is what we do today, what we will do together tomorrow. Today in South Africa we had the restart of the Strategic Dialogue, which is very important because it focuses on the topics that will have a real impact on the lives of South Africans and Americans as well. Questions about health care, climate, infrastructure investments, global investments. So, for us, it’s today, it’s tomorrow; yesterday has passed.

QUESTION: A final word, Antony Blinken. The Kenyan people will vote to elect a new president. Is this an election that the United States particularly follows?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: We follow him closely, like everyone everywhere in Africa and in the world. So far, I think things are looking pretty positive. We will have a free election, with broad participation. This is what the world expects, this is what Africa expects from this election. We will see and watch things closely.

QUESTION: Anthony Blinken, thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you, it was a pleasure talking with you.

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