Secretary Antony J. Blinken With The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic Festival

SEPTEMBER 28, 2023

MR GOLDBERG:  Thank you, and good morning.  And again, on behalf of everyone at The Atlantic, thank you so much for coming today and tomorrow, I hope.  We have an amazing program.  We’re kicking it off with the Secretary of State.  I’ve told him that he’s the warm-up act for Nancy Pelosi.  (Laughter.)  And he accepted that with equanimity, I think, because you’re a diplomat.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I always wanted to make the arena stage, so —

MR GOLDBERG:  Yeah, you made the arena stage; you’re opening for Nancy.  So we’ll see.  (Laughter.)  But next year, next year you might headline.


MR GOLDBERG:  Next year you might headline this event; I don’t know.  We’ll see.  See how you do in the next 27 minutes.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you, Jeff.

MR GOLDBERG:  We thank you very much for coming.  I appreciate it.  And I was hoping that we could talk today, do – like, lift up a little bit from the daily press of events and get a lager picture of where America is in the world, and where the world is.  And you’ve been speaking somewhat about this subject.  Obviously, you’re speaking about the subject of the Cold War in the shadow of what’s going on in Ukraine.  But the big question that I want to start with is simply this:  Are we in a new Cold War?  Is this the – does this mark the end of Cold War I and the beginning of Cold War II?  And I think the anxiety-producing aspect of this question is:  This feels worse in some ways, our relationship with Russia right now, than it felt even in some of the unhappy – unhappiest moments of the Cold War.  Where do we stand?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Jeff, I don’t think we’re in a new Cold War, but we are in a new era.  Because as we see it, the post-Cold War era is over, and what we’re in now is a period where there is an intense competition to shape what comes next – a competition that involves Russia and China in different ways, and a competition that also involves a whole panoply of countries, including in the developing world, about how we’re going to face and tackle these huge transnational challenges that defy the ability of any one country alone to meet them.

So as we see it, we have to engage this era from a position of strength.  That’s why we’ve done two things:  We’ve invested in ourselves at home in historic ways, and at the same time – and this is my piece of it, on the President’s instruction – we have from day one worked to revitalize, re-engage, rejuvenate our alliances and partnerships, and build new ones that are fit for specific purposes.  And in doing that, our hope is that we can be the ones who are doing a lot of the shaping of this new era.

MR GOLDBERG:  When did the – take us back a little bit.  When did the Cold – the Cold War ended in ’89, ’90, in that period.  Was there a true thaw, or were the Russians just nursing their resentments that whole time?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I think historians will be talking about that and debating about that for years.  And there’s no fixed endpoint.  You’ve seen a gradual progression.  A lot of the things that we hoped and expected would happen after the Cold War didn’t materialize the way we wanted.

Now, put it in context.  A tremendous amount of good came, both from the post-World War II period and then the post-Cold War period: lifting hundreds of millions, billions, of people out of poverty around the world; avoiding great power conflict – that was, of course, the purpose of the entire system that was set up after World War II – moving to tackle some of these transnational challenges.

But we’ve had a serious erosion that’s taken place, I’d say, over the last decade, and there’s a lot to get into about why that happened.  And to some extent, this culminated really in a perfect storm.  COVID was an accelerant to all of this.  But we find ourselves at a point where the great power competition that some hoped would be a thing of the past is now back in the present, but it’s overlaid with, again, these tremendous transnational challenges that, in their complexity and multiplicity, demand that we find ways to work with others to tackle them.

MR GOLDBERG:  So you remember, of course, that Mitt Romney, when he was running against Barack Obama, talked about Russia as the main adversary of the United States, and Barack Obama said, “Mitt, the Cold War called.  It wants its foreign policy back.”  It turns out Mitt Romney was right, though.  Is that fair to say?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, I had occasion to tell Senator Romney that I thought he had been rather prescient in some of the things that he said.  (Laughter.)

MR GOLDBERG:  And was he satisfied when you told him that?  (Laughter.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I’ll let him speak to that, Jeff.  This is not what we wanted.  In fact, when President Biden came to office, one of the things that we tried to explore was whether Russia was interested in having a more stable, predictable relationship with the United States.  You remember President Biden and President Putin met in Geneva.  That was – and this is before the re-aggression against Ukraine.  The whole intent was to test that out.  Unfortunately – more than unfortunately – tragically, in so many ways, that’s not what Putin wanted.

MR GOLDBERG:  Do you think there’s any purpose in ever having President Biden meet with Putin again, or is it beyond repair?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Look, never say never because ultimately what everyone wants, starting with the Ukrainians, is a just and durable peace.  So let’s see if we ever get to a point where that’s possible.

MR GOLDBERG:  What does a just and durable peace look like to you?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, it’s two things.  Just in the sense that it reflects the basic principles that are at the heart of the UN Charter – territorial integrity, sovereignty, independence for Ukraine.  Durable in the sense that you want to make sure that if you’re getting to a peace, you’re not also leaving in place conditions that would allow this aggression to happen again a year later, two years later, five years later.  So those are the two things.  Those are the two guideposts.  How you specify that, how you define that, obviously the Ukrainians have to make fundamental decisions about what they want their future to look like.

MR GOLDBERG:  But the Ukrainians say right now that the future peace looks like 100 percent of their territory under their control.  That seems like a hard lift, and we can talk about how the war is actually going in a second.  But do you ever see a moment when this administration, your administration, and the Zelenskyy administration are just going to be at loggerheads over that core question?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We have been and we will remain closely joined.  And what the President has said repeatedly is that these are fundamentally decisions for Ukrainians to make.  Nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine – that remains very much the north star of what we’re doing.  But Jeff, I think what’s so important here is there are two reasons that we’ve been engaged in this – and not just us, dozens of other countries.

By the way, for years people complained when we’ve been engaged abroad in the lack of burden sharing, allies and partners picking up their fair share.  This is an instance where we’ve had very successful burden sharing.  In fact, if you look at the numbers across the board, both in total and military, economic, humanitarian support, other countries together are doing even more than we’re doing.  So it’s quite extraordinary.

But we want to make sure that as we’re doing this, we’re doing two things.  One, I don’t think people in this country, in any other country, like to see the horrific bullying that’s going on with one large country aggressing another and doing terrible things in the process.  So we’re moved by that, and Americans, I think, feel that inherently.  But equally, this is about more than Ukraine.  It is about a Russian aggression against the very principles that have been at the heart of the international system.

We were in New York a week ago for the UN General Assembly, and it was kind of a useful moment to remind ourselves that the reason the UN came about in the first place was after the Second World War, and the major intent was to make sure that the world came together in a way that didn’t allow for a third world war after the first two.  And in order to do that, there was an agreement in the UN Charter about the basic understandings that countries have in how they relate to one another.  And at the heart of that are things like territorial integrity, sovereignty, and defense.

MR GOLDBERG:  I have to say, though, the UN seems kind of useless in this situation.  Russia’s on the Security Council; it vetoes the resolutions that are opposed to Russia.  It has China has an authoritarian partner in their common desire to not have internal intervention.  So what is the defense of the – I mean, they had nice parties last week, but what’s the defense of the United Nations at this point?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, two things.  First, you’re right, the Security Council has a lot of problems and we’re working on them.  But –

MR GOLDBERG:  Well, you’re working.  Stop – how are you working on them?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, one of the things that we’re doing is we’re leading the effort to actually reform the council, to bring countries on to the council that better reflect realities of today, not when the council was first established.

MR GOLDBERG:  But how do you do that when Russia and China have a veto over reform?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Jeff, it’s a process.  (Laughter.)  But here’s the thing.  But —

MR GOLDBERG:  By the way, that’s Nancy Pelosi-level game right there.  (Laughter.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Now, that’s flattery.  Thank you.  (Laughter.)  Listen, General Assembly – pretty instructive.  We’ve had three votes on the General Assembly at various points where 140 countries or more, in one way or another, condemned what Russia was doing.  That’s a powerful signal.  That’s a powerful message.

And if you look at the UN agencies that are out there doing incredible work – whether it’s UNHCR, whether it’s UNICEF, whether it’s the International Organization of Migration, and down the list – they’re doing things to help people in distress that, were they not doing it, either we would have to do it entirely on own or no one would do it, and then you’d have a world of even greater hurt.

So yeah, of course the UN needs a lot of work.  But it’s as my boss likes to say, “Don’t compare me to the Almighty.  Compare me to the alternative.”

MR GOLDBERG:  Right.  (Laughter.)  So General Mark Milley, who I spent some time with recently, was talking about Ukraine, the battle space of Ukraine, as the fulcrum of the world in terms of democracy versus authoritarianism, like the whole story is there.  If Russia wins and gets its way through force, that means that authoritarians will be truly ascendant.  And so my question is:  Do you believe that all of our eggs are in that basket as well?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, let me say two things.  First, one thing about Mark – it’s been an incredible privilege to serve alongside him.  He’s an extraordinary American, an extraordinary leader, an an amazing patriot.  And I’ve not only learned a tremendous amount from him but just enjoyed immensely being in the Situation Room with him and getting to work with him in these past couple of years.  The piece that you ran was extraordinary – requisite plug for The Atlantic – (laughter) – and so I really wanted to note that.  Really an extraordinary person and extraordinary leader.

And this is not a question of all the eggs being in a basket, but he’s exactly right about what the stakes are because here’s the thing.  If Russia is allowed to do what it’s doing in Ukraine and to do it with impunity, then it tells would-be aggressors everywhere they can get away with it, we can get away with it.  And that’s why you’ve seen so many countries far removed from Europe and Ukraine engaged in supporting Ukraine – Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand.  They all understand that there are global stakes involved, and that’s why —

MR GOLDBERG:  They’re watching Russia and thinking China?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  They’re watching Russia and thinking, look, my own region – this could happen here.  And the message we send, the actions we take, are going to have an effect on what happens later.

MR GOLDBERG:  So let me ask you this because everything we’re talking about is – we’re talking about – understanding that there’s a rather important election coming up in this country:  How do you build guardrails for NATO?  How do you build guardrails now to protect the effort to continuing to keep Ukraine in the fight?  We know very clearly – he doesn’t dissemble on this question – we know that Donald Trump doesn’t like NATO, would, if he had his druthers, pull out of NATO, doesn’t like Ukraine, obviously has a great affection for Putin, apparently.  How are you right now building systems so that that fight can continue even if Donald Trump wins the presidency?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, Jeff, first, in my job, I do elections everywhere, except for the United States, so – (laughter) —

MR GOLDBERG:  I’m not asking you to predict the election or – I mean, you can endorse a candidate.  It’s pretty safe to understand who you might endorse.  But the question is – and the question is – and I – and this – you hear from allies every day what’s going to happen.  The only reason Ukraine is in the fight – I mean, there’s two reasons Ukraine is in the fight.  One, Ukrainians are very, very brave and have sacrificed a huge amount on the battlefield.  (Applause.)  The other reason is this enormous American effort to keep them armed, to keep the intelligence flowing, to keep the international coalition, to revitalize NATO.  I mean, this is sort of the obvious question:  If we go in a completely different direction, what happens to that cause?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, I’d say two things.  First, again, not just us, 50 other countries doing this and sustaining this.  And what we’re doing is trying to make sure that, to the best of our ability, the steps that we’re taking now are as deep-rooted as they possibly can be.  So for example, one of the results of Putin’s historic folly in Ukraine is the fact that NATO enlarged.  It’s stronger and now it’s bigger.  We have Finland in; Sweden’s about to get in, something I think unimaginable before the Russian aggression.  That is something that is lasting —

MR GOLDBERG:  Putin has done more for NATO than any Western leader.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Oh, Putin’s – Putin has done – yes, that’s undeniable.  If you look – by the way, I think it’s also important to note that, no matter what happens, this has already been a historic strategic failure for Russia.  In terms of Ukraine itself, it wanted to erase it from the map, destroy its independence, subsume it into Russia.  That has failed and can’t possibly succeed.

But if you look at Russia now – militarily, economically, diplomatically – its standing has dropped precipitously.  If you look at what’s happened with NATO, as you just pointed out; if you look at what’s happened with Europe, moving away from energy dependence on Russia – in each one of these areas, this has been a debacle for Russia.  And of course, the Ukrainian people are more united than they’ve ever been, including against Russia, which was not the case before 2014, and now it’s on steroids since the aggression in 2022.

I’ll give you another example.  We have worked very hard – you saw this with the Camp David summit with Korea and Japan – not only to have this trilateral partnership to try to tackle issues together, but in so doing, to bring Japan and Korea closer together.  That’s something that’s lasting, that has its own momentum, and that will continue.

Look, Jeff, the best we can do is to work in the moment we’re in and to do everything we can to try to advance the national interests.  If results follow, I believe people will want to sustain that.

MR GOLDBERG:  Let’s talk about results.  Americans are an impatient people.  We know that.  Americans don’t like long wars.  And there’s a feeling – and maybe this is an unfair feeling – but there’s a feeling that the Ukrainian offensive is bogged down or just going slowly.  Give us your sense of the war as it stands.  I realize we’re not talking to Lloyd Austin, but you still have an overall sense of how that effort is going.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, if you put this in context, I was just in Ukraine a couple of weeks ago.  I’d previously been there exactly a year before.  I’ve been there three times into Kyiv since the Russian aggression.  And in the space of that year, the Ukrainians have taken back more than 50 percent of the territory that Russia took from them starting in February of 2022.  Now, of course, they’re engaged in this counteroffensive along the south and the east.  It’s been tough going, and there’s a good reason for that.  The Russians had many, many months to build up defenses.  But the Ukrainians are making real progress.

At the end of the day, I think the fundamental difference-maker is this:  You’re right.  Our support, the support of more than 50 countries, has been a big difference-maker; but the fundamental difference-maker is the fact that Ukrainians are fighting for their own land, their own freedom, their own future.  The Russians are not.  And I think, at the end of the day, that is what tips the balance.

Now, exactly where this settles, exactly where lines wind up being drawn – that’s going to be up to the Ukrainians.  They have to make important decisions.  And it’s a democracy, and those decisions will be reflected in Ukraine’s democracy.

MR GOLDBERG:  It seems like your administration is having a harder time than one might expect selling the idea of American support for Ukraine in large swaths of America.  What are you – what more do you need to do to convince Americans that that fight is our fight?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I’m not sure I accept the premise, for a couple of reasons.  One, if you look at polling – which is not what’s driving things – but at least some of the polls I’ve seen recently suggest that there is strong, enduring support for our support for Ukraine.  In Congress, yes, there are some loud voices that are taking a different tack.  But if you look at the majority in both parties, the support is there and it’s sustained.

I had an opportunity to spend some time with Leader McConnell, Mitch McConnell.  It’s clear the House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Mike McCaul – also a very strong supporter.  So I believe the support is still there.

We, of course, have to continuously try to focus our fellow citizens on the stakes.  And it’s a natural progression.  You have intense focus on something over a period of time – and actually the intensity of the focus on Ukraine lasted a lot longer than I would have predicted – but inevitably, other things happen.  The media moves on.  And it’s in those moments where, sure, it’s a little bit more challenging to keep people focused on something and in so doing to really sustain the support.  But at least where we are now, I have not seen that erosion, but it’s something we have to work out all the time.

MR GOLDBERG:  What do you think about the so-called realist perspective on Ukraine and Russia which is related to maybe some of this quasi-isolationism you hear in the more Trump-ified portions of the Republican Party, which admittedly is most the Republican Party at this moment, that this war is partially – at least partially the product of Western overreach; that of course Russia is going to react negatively to the expansion of NATO, to feeling boxed in, and so on?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I think history says exactly the opposite.  Again, consider this:  Before 2014, when the Russians first went into Ukraine, you had in Ukraine itself very little public support for joining NATO, favorable attitudes – including in the West – toward Russia.  NATO itself was on a downward trajectory: defense budgets were actually declining, not going up; the American presence in Europe had declined dramatically from the end of the Cold War – 300,000 troops to about 60,000; the heavy equipment that was a part of NATO was actually being pulled back – tanks and planes.  That was the trajectory.

And, again, there was a good reason for that.  The hope and expectation was we had moved into a better, more positive period.  There was even a NATO-Russia Founding Act.  I remember it very well.  I was working for President Clinton at the time and – when he signed this – and this was a means of cooperation between NATO and Russia.  So if you’re looking at it from that perspective, I think the trajectory was clear.  And NATO has never had a design on a single inch of Russian territory.  It’s not an offensive alliance; it’s a defensive alliance.  Putin has managed in these actions to precipitate everything he claims he wants to prevent, and that starts with a stronger and bigger NATO.

MR GOLDBERG:  Is Russia a bigger threat to the U.S. and to Western democratic interests now or is China actually the number one?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  They’re very different in their nature.  The – China has – by its military capacity, its economic capacity, although a little bit more challenged these days, its diplomatic capacity, its presence around the world – much greater ability certainly than Russia to try to shape what the international system looks like.  And I think they want a world order, but the world order that they seek is profoundly illiberal in nature; ours is liberal with a small “L.”  And that’s the fundamental difference.  The world that we hope to shape looks very different from the world that they might prefer so ‑-

MR GOLDBERG:  What does China want, ultimately?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I think that what it seeks is to be the dominant power in the world militarily, economically, diplomatically.  And depending on the purpose that it brings to that, that can move things in one direction or another.  But I think fundamentally that’s what China is seeking, that’s what Xi Jinping is seeking, and in a sense that’s not a surprise.  There’s an extraordinary history in China, and I think if you look and listen to the Chinese leaders, they are seeking to recover what they believe is their rightful place in the world.

MR GOLDBERG:  Did you – are you surprised that the imperial spirit is so alive across much of the world at this late stage?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  These are things that we thought, hoped, expected that we’d left behind.  And one would think that the lessons learned from that experience would have continued to move things in that direction, but the reality is it hasn’t.  And that’s exactly what we’re grappling with now.  That’s why, as I said at the outset, this is the start of a new era.  This is the end of the post-Cold War era.  This is the start of something new.

And the President talks about it this way – and you’ve heard him, I think, Jeff – he talks about it as an inflection point, and by that he means the decisions that we make just in the next few years will have a profound effect in shaping not just the few years that follow but decades to follow.  We had an inflection point after the Second World War.  We had another one arguably at the end of the Cold War.  This is a third one.  And that’s why the stakes couldn’t be higher, but it’s also why I’m feeling real confidence about our ability to do that shaping.

We’ve had as a result of our re-engagement with the world built convergence with dozens of countries, starting in Europe but well beyond, on the approach to Russia and Ukraine.  We built convergence much greater than we’ve ever had on the approach to China, and we’ve managed also to bring partners together in the Atlantic and in the Asian theaters.  The way we’re looking at it is this – and if you look at what we’ve actually been doing – I talk about it almost like variable geometry.  We have coalitions of different shapes and sizes that are fit for specific purposes.  Part of that is using existing alliances and partnerships, but part of it is also building new ones.

An example, we were at – in New York, as I said, last week.  This summer we put together a global coalition to deal with one of the greatest threats in our time, and that is synthetic opioids here in this country.  More Americans between 18 and 49 die as a result of fentanyl than anything else.  We now have a hundred countries coming together to try to deal in a much more concentrated and coordinated fashion with this scourge, including making sure that precursors – chemical precursors that get diverted into the illegal manufacture of fentanyl that we find ways to block and to stop and to control that – among many other things.

Down the line, whether it’s on food security, whether it’s on climate, whether it’s on building infrastructure and meeting the demands that are out there around the world – but making sure that we’re building it to the highest standards – in each and every one of these ways, we put together different collections of countries to work on it, and organizations.  And we’re also doing these in cross-cutting ways and in new ways.

So I think if you look at that and you look at the investments that we’ve made in ourselves – truly historic investments, starting with infrastructure – CHIPS and then the IRA giving us leadership on the technologies that are going to define the 21st Century economy when it comes to green economies – we’re in without question a much stronger position at home and abroad than we’ve been in recent years.

MR GOLDBERG:  I’ve got to say, though – I mean, if the choice is between a very sanguine Secretary of State and easily excitable Secretary of State, I guess you go with sanguine.  But we’re a year away – (laughter) – we’re a year away from an election where your guy is running against the other guy and the other guy wants to dismantle everything that you just talked about.

And so I don’t – I’m not really tracking your sanguinity  – (laughter) on this and I’ll come back to that question.  And maybe there is no answer.  Maybe you can’t future-proof the work that this administration has done over the past three years.  And by the way, there have been mistakes that the Biden administration has made, there have been victories along the way, but it’s all within a certain bandwidth of reality-based policymaking.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  I’ll take that.

MR GOLDBERG:  You’re – well, no, that’s the – yeah.  (Applause.)  I don’t mean to be too nice about it or anything, but – no, I mean, it’s – there’s the usual bandwidth and then there’s the special bandwidth that we’ve been dealing with – (laughter) – in the last seven or eight years.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I’m really looking forward, years from now, to someone saying about my tenure “reality-based policymaking.”  I think that’s – (laughter) —

MR GOLDBERG:  Yes, it is, but how do you – again, I come back to this.  You seem very – yes, I understand you have this kind of almost fatalistic “all I can do is work in the present,” but the next time – and by the way —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  If you can tell me how I can work in the future, I —

MR GOLDBERG:  No, well – no, but this is the question.  (Laughter.)  I would like you to work in the future, but this is the question.  Is there anything that this administration can do to build guardrails for some of the plans and programs that you’re talking about, including very, very key programs like supporting Ukraine?


MR GOLDBERG:  Or is it just you got to – Joe Biden (inaudible)?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I mentioned a few of them, a number of the things that we’ve done, that we’ve helped, that we’ve supported, including NATO’s enlargement.  That’s going to last no matter what the next administration is.  The work that we’ve done —

MR GOLDBERG:  But he can pull out – the previous president, if he’s elected again, and that’s a plausible – maybe not probable, but a plausible outcome – he could pull the United States out of NATO.  What’s NATO without the United States?  Sorry.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I think that there is a strong demand signal from around the world and also a demand signal here at home, whoever is president, whoever the future administration is, about the direction that people want this country to go in.  That matters.  That makes a difference.  So our job, as I said, is to do the – to the best of our ability to make sure that what we’re doing resonates with people; that they see, as I said, that there are results; and that given a choice between different directions, they want to sustain the direction that we’re taking.

MR GOLDBERG:  Let me ask in a couple of minutes that we have left about a couple of threats and possibilities on the horizon.  The first is Taiwan.  Obviously, a lot of people, especially if you’re talking about Indo-Pacific issues, they look at Ukraine and they ask the question:  Is Taiwan ready for what might be coming?  Is it?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  What we’ve seen over the last years – not just the last year, years plural, really going back to 2016 – is China looking to stir the pot, to change the status quo with regard to Taiwan.  But what we’ve seen just over the last year is a very strong convergence of countries around the world – in the region and well beyond – saying to Beijing, “Don’t do it.”  The stakes not just for Taiwan but quite literally for the entire world are extraordinarily high.  Fifty percent of the world’s container traffic goes through the Taiwan Strait every day, 70 percent of semiconductors manufactured there.  Were there to be a crisis over Taiwan precipitated by Chinese actions, you would have a global economic crisis.

And so I think the message that China is hearing increasingly from countries around the world is “Don’t stir the pot.”  We want – everyone wants peace and stability.  Everyone wants the status quo to be preserved.

MR GOLDBERG:  Do you think the Chinese are surprised at the level of American engagement with Ukraine?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I think that what China’s taken note of, clearly, is the success we’ve had in building convergence both in Asia, in Europe, and even points beyond about the approach to take toward China.  And if you look not only at what colleagues around the world are saying, but what countries are actually doing, there is an incredible alignment.  China’s taken note of that.

MR GOLDBERG:  Right.  I mean, it is interesting – I want to come to the last point in a second, but it is interesting to note that China has somehow managed to create a new U.S.-Vietnam alliance, which is not historically an easy thing to pull off.  (Laughter.)  Talk about that for one minute.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, that – look, that’s extraordinary in so many ways.  I was with the President in Vietnam a couple weeks ago.  I’ve been there a number of times over the years going back to the Obama administration.  And it’s one of the most extraordinary stories in recent history for a whole variety of reasons, but I think what you’ve seen is us take this relationship to a new and unprecedented level.  It reflects the desire of the Vietnamese to have a strong and more comprehensive partnership with the United States.

Now, yes, is some of that driven by their concerns about China?  Of course.  But at the same time, I think there’s – in Vietnam in particular, you just see an extraordinary energy, an extraordinary entrepreneurial class of young people, an incredibly young population, and they’re attracted to the United States.  And it’s a remarkable, remarkable transition of history.

But look, I think it’s important to put this in perspective, because this story, while incredibly powerful and positive, is also not novel in other ways.  Among our closest allies in the world right now: Germany and Japan.

MR GOLDBERG:  Germany and Japan, right.  First we go through some bad stuff and then we have some good stuff.  (Laughter.)

The final question for you, and a short question:  Normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia; you’ve been working on this quite a bit.  What are the chances?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  First, it would be transformative if we can get there.  You would go from a region where there have been, as you know better than anyone, decades of turmoil – go back to 1979, even earlier – and moving that to the prospects for a much more stable and integrated region, to have at the same time a rapprochement by the leading country in Islam with Israel, that would have reverberations well beyond the Middle East.  So if it can be achieved, I think it would be transformative.

Achieving it is not easy.  There are really hard issues that are on the table.  We’re working through them.  I don’t want to put a percentage number on it, but I can say this:  I think we’re invested in really testing this out.  I believe the Saudis and the Israelis are as well.  But we still have to grapple with a lot of hard practical issues.  And whether we can get there and when we can get there, that we don’t know.

MR GOLDBERG:  Well, I want to thank the overly sanguine Secretary of State.  (Laughter.)  All I’ve managed to do is get myself overheated, but we tried.  (Laughter.)  We tried.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Jeff, if it’s any consolation, I’m going to go backstage and scream.  (Laughter.)

MR GOLDBERG:  Okay.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)