QUESTION: Well, Secretary Blinken, thank you so much for spending time with us. I really appreciate it.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Great to be with you, Jon.
QUESTION: So let me just ask you. You could have chosen any city in America, maybe even in Europe, for this first-ever U.S.-European Trade and Technology Council meeting. Why did you choose Pittsburgh?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It was done greatly because – and we’ve seen it in the couple of days that we’ve been here – you have in Pittsburgh a city that was obviously the manufacturing capital of the country in the 20th century.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s now a technological center of the country in this century. But it also has so many of the different stakeholders represented, including the labor movement, where I just spent a couple of hours. And all of this together is so important in how we think about dealing with the issues of trade and technology that are having real impact on our peoples’ lives. And what’s happening here in this city I think in many ways shows the way through some of these issues, issues that we have to work on with our European partners.
QUESTION: What have you learned by being here in Pittsburgh on this trip?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I learned a lot of things. One is that, as I said, it just reinforced for me the fact that when it comes from everything to cutting-edge medical research, including on COVID-19, when it comes to the work that’s being done on driverless cars, but when it also comes to having a strong and growing stronger labor movement that is so essential to the future of our country and our economy, it’s all here in Pittsburgh.
And one of the things that’s so challenging that we have to deal with is making these transitions from the economy of the past to the economy of the future, but making sure that as we’re making those transitions people don’t get left behind, that they come along. And that’s what’s happening every day in this city, and I think for both us in the government and also for our European partners, there’s a lot to be learned.
QUESTION: Let me ask this question. It’s really from a local perspective. You are the top foreign policy expert leader of this country, other than the President, of course. And there’s a lot of concern about supply issues and about competition from China.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That’s right.
QUESTION: How important is that to you? When it impacts local people, we can’t get supply parts here in Pittsburgh for some of our manufacturing companies. What can you do at the State Department to make sure perhaps that we reinvigorate American business, American manufacturing, so we don’t have to rely on China, who we know cheat?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So there’s a lot that goes into that, Jon, and it’s one of the things that we talked about. One of the things we’ve learned, including from the COVID-19 crisis, is we have to build more diversified and more resilient supply chains, including bringing some of that manufacturing and supply back here to the United States, especially when it comes to critical products and critical technologies, where we can’t afford to be dependent on anyone else, or we can’t afford to have a shortage and a crunch.
But in some cases, it also means making sure that some of that supply is coming from our closest partners and allies, like the European allies and partners. So that’s exactly what we talked about. But it’s also a reminder of how important human capital is in all of this, because at the end of the day, where so much is being driven by new technologies – and that’s important and we – there is tremendous job potential in those new technologies, but I —
QUESTION: And you’re seeing some of them right here in Pittsburgh, Argo AI.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I went to see Argo, among other things. But at the same time, we can’t lose sight of the fact that at the heart of everything still is the human resource here. You’ve got a supply – a critical supply chain during COVID, the food supply chain. Well, if workers have an unsafe work environment, if they’re going into a processing plant or they’re driving the trucks or they’re stocking the grocery shelves and that’s not safe, they face a terrible choice between giving up their job and their livelihood or working in an unsafe place. The supply chain may get disrupted, so we have to pay attention to that too, even as we’re working with our partners and allies to build stronger supply chains here and in most countries.
QUESTION: As you know, there’s been these congressional hearings this week in Washington over Afghanistan and the actions there. From a local perspective, when we view this from outside of the Beltway, it seems to me there’s an awful lot of finger-pointing between the State Department and the Pentagon. And as you may know, in an executive session, General Milley essentially told congressional leaders that the State Department waited too long to order an evacuation in Kabul.
Is that true? And what do you make of all this?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I guess I’d say, Jon, look, this was – first of all, the President’s decision to end the longest war in our history was the right decision. The decision not to send a third generation of Americans back to Afghanistan to fight and die there was the right decision. And at the end of the day, we had what was an extraordinary evacuation mission where we got 125,000 people out of Afghanistan. That has never been done before. I think, as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Milley himself has said, no one anticipated that the government in Afghanistan and the security forces would collapse as quickly as they did.
And I think for anyone to say that any of these decisions were made by any one agency, that’s not how we work. We do these – we do all of this together. The President brings everyone together, everyone is heard, everyone is listened to, and we make these decisions collectively. That’s what happened in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: We’re running down on time, but I’m going to ask you two quick questions. One – another one that relates here locally – I think it relates all over the country – has to do with ransomware and security and Russia. What are you doing to protect Americans from ransoms that really can disrupt individuals as well as companies?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: No, you’re exactly right. We’re seeing this having increasing impact across the country and indeed around the world. So it’s very straightforward. There are a few things that we’re doing and that need to happen. One is we need to make sure that there are better defenses in place, that people are aware of the problem and they’re putting in place the necessary protections to guard against it. And it’s everything as basic as making sure you’re updating software on a very regular basis to other protections.
But we also have to go on the offensive and disrupt and dismantle these mostly criminal organizations that are engaged in ransomware. And if any country, whether it’s Russia or any other country, is harboring such groups, it has a responsibility to deal with them, to take them down, to dismantle them, to prosecute them. And if they’re unwilling or unable to do that, there are actions that President Biden’s made clear to President Putin, among others, that we will take to do it.
QUESTION: Well, Mr. Secretary, thank you, sir, very much for your time today. I really appreciate it.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Great to be with you, Jon. Thanks for having me.
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