Blinken pledges aid after Morocco earthquake, defends G20 statement on Ukraine war

And he responded to critics of Elon Musk limiting Ukraine digital connectivity.

September 10, 2023, 10:42 AM

The U.S. "reached out immediately" to the Moroccan government in the wake of a devastating earthquake there and "made very clear to them that we are prepared to assist in any way that we can," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

"We have the U.S. Agency for International Development, which takes the lead in our efforts, mobilizing and we're waiting to hear from the Moroccan government how we can be of most assistance. But we're tracking this very carefully and our hearts go out to the people of Morocco," Blinken told ABC "This Week" co-anchor Jonathan Karl in an interview that aired Sunday.

The death toll from the quake, which struck in the High Atlas Mountains on Friday night, has already surpassed 2,000, according to Moroccan officials. Scores more were injured in the worst seismic event in the North African country in decades.

The U.S. response was just one of the items on Blinken's agenda over the weekend, which he spent alongside President Joe Biden in New Delhi for a Group of 20 summit -- a gathering of the leaders governing the world's top economies.

While the powers were ultimately able to sign off on a final statement that mentioned the invasion of Ukraine ahead of the summit's close, the group reached a consensus only after wording denouncing Russia for waging the war was erased.

Karl pressed Blinken on why this year's joint statement ultimately did not explicitly call out Russia's aggression as the leaders' declaration did following last year's meeting in Bali, Indonesia, which noted that "most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine."

By contrast, the latest G20 declaration urges that "all states must refrain from the threat or use of force to seek territorial acquisition against the territorial integrity and sovereignty or political independence of any state."

On "This Week," Blinken defended the new language.

"The leaders here are all stood up very clearly -- including in the statement -- for Ukraine's sovereignty and its territorial integrity," he insisted. "I think the statement is a very strong one."

The secretary also said "leader after leader" attending the summit underscored the negative global impact of Russia's war, particularly its effect on food security given Ukraine's key role in producing grain, for example.

"It was very clear in the room, going around the table, that countries are feeling the consequences and want the Russian aggression to stop," he said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken makes an opening statement during a meeting with Ukraine's Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, at the Prime Minister's Office in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sept. 6, 2023.
Brendan Smialowski/AP

The G20's watered down language on Russia comes as the U.S. is considering further ramping up its extensive support for Ukraine by supplying long-range Army Tactical Missile Systems, or ATACMS, according to U.S. officials.

The missiles, which Ukraine has been requesting for months, would give the country the ability to strike deep into Russian territory. But throughout the conflict, Kyiv has assured Washington that it will not use donated lethal aid to attack Russia -- only to defend or help reclaim its own territory.

Blinken did not confirm whether the administration would ultimately greenlight supplying ATACMS to Ukraine but said that officials were having an "ongoing conversation" with their Ukrainian counterparts "about what they need, when they need it."

Blinken also said he would not comment on another matter in the war: When tech billionaire and entrepreneur Elon Musk declined to let Ukraine's forces use his Starlink satellite internet service -- which he has been providing to the country since the conflict began -- in order to carry out a strike on Russia in the Black Sea.

Musk said last week that he saw the move as endorsing a potentially grave escalation in the fighting, while Ukrainian officials contend Russian ships have gone on to be able to strike out at their civilians.

"Who's right here?" Karl asked Blinken.

"Here's what I know: Starlink has been an essential tool, a vital link for Ukrainians to be able to communicate and, indeed, for the Ukrainian military to be able to defend or take back all of its territory. ... I'm not going to get into specific episodes," he said.

Blinken arrived at the G20 summit fresh off a trip to Ukraine, his fourth since the war began, where he met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukrainian Prime Minister Dens Shmyhal and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

Karl asked whether Blinken, in his engagements, had raised Kyiv's increasing incursions into Russian territory -- strikes that the country's officials frequently defend as warranted over outcry from Moscow but that Ukraine does not explicitly take credit for conducting.

Blinken did not answer the question directly but responded that Biden administration officials "haven't encouraged and we haven't enabled any use of weapons outside of Ukraine's territory."

Karl also asked the secretary whether he believes Zelenskyy could foresee brokering an end to the conflict at the negotiating table.

"I found both President Zelenskyy and every Ukrainian that I met -- whether it was folks in the government, or whether it was many other Ukrainians that we had a chance to engage with over the course of two days -- incredibly resilient, incredibly courageous, incredibly resolute." Blinken said. "And ultimately, that's really what's at the heart of this, and the reason that I remain very confident in Ukraine's ultimate success, which is that they're fighting for their country, for their future, for their freedom."

Blinken said that "where exactly this settles, where [territorial] lines are drawn, that is going to be up to Ukrainians" but that peace talks were out of reach at the moment because "it takes two to tango."

"And thus far, we see no indication that [Russian President] Vladimir Putin has any interest in meaningful diplomacy. If he does, I think the Ukrainians will be the first to engage and we'll be right behind them," Blinken said. "Everyone wants this war to end."

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