Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
José Manuel Albares, Spanish Foreign Minister
May 10, 2023
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, good afternoon, everyone. It’s really wonderful to have my friend, the foreign minister, back at the State Department. José Manuel, welcome. It’s very good to have you.
As always, with such a close ally and friend, there is no shortage of important issues that we’re tackling together. And the conversation that we had today, not surprisingly, reflected that. We covered a lot of territory together, and let me just share some of the important points.
One of the areas we discussed was deepening our cooperation in the Western Hemisphere. Spain has long invested in expanding economic opportunity for people across the region, and it’s a key partner in supporting implementation of the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection, which brings a regional approach to promoting safe, orderly, humane, and regular migration. We are grateful for Spain’s commitment to work with us on these Regional Processing Centers that we’re establishing, which will expand access to people in the Americas who seek safe and legal migration options to come to the United States and potentially to Spain.
These innovative centers will allow people to stay in their own countries and determine their eligibility for lawful pathways to the United States, making them less likely to undertake the dangerous and costly journey to the border to seek asylum. And the centers will be a referral point for humanitarian refugee protections in other countries, including Spain. Spain has already received hundreds of thousands of migrants from Latin America and the Caribbean. It’s committed to increase the number of people that it accepts from the region. Madrid recently created an innovative new pathway itself that will work with the private sector to match the skills of people seeking protection with the needs of Spanish businesses.
I also thanked José Manuel for Madrid’s unwavering support and partnership with and for Ukraine as it defends its people and its territory against Russia’s brutal war of aggression. Spain’s assistance has come in all forms: robust military aid, including the recent revision of Leopard 2 tanks; air defense systems; ammunition; humanitarian aid, including ambulances specially equipped to tend to the needs of women and girls; and of course, the generosity of the Spanish people, who have now welcomed more than 173,000 displaced Ukrainians into their communities.
Spain has made clear that marshaling ongoing support for Ukraine – and for the principles at the heart of the United Nations Charter, including respect for a nation’s sovereignty, territorial independence – will be a central focus of its upcoming presidency of the Council of the European Union. This is just one of the many ways that Spain is demonstrating leadership in rallying allies and partners around our shared interests and shared values.
Spain has also played a key role in shaping the Strategic Concept that we and our allies adopted at the Madrid Summit of NATO that sets out a vision for strengthening transatlantic security in the face of unprecedented challenges. And Madrid has led by example in delivering on the commitments we made in deploying additional troops to bolster NATO’s eastern flank, to strengthen the defenses of our Alliance.
We also discussed how to strengthen our longstanding efforts to defend and promote human rights. And to that end, we’re very pleased, as we just did, to welcome Spain to the Global Equality Fund, a partnership between governments and the private sector to support those on the front lines of advancing the human rights of the LGBTQI community and people around the world.
With José Manuel’s signature, Spain becomes now the 18th government to join this effort, which has dedicated over $100 million to civil society organizations and human rights defenders in more than 100 countries. Every year, that support takes the form of training and tools that make local advocates safer and more effective, and emergency assistance and legal aid to human rights defenders and LGBTQI+ persons who face violence and abuse because of who they are, who they love, or what they do. Our efforts are helping to change the views of individuals and communities, and chipping away at enduring prejudice and abuse. We will be even stronger with Spain as a partner.
We also touched upon a number of other important issues of mutual concern, including shared concern about the situation in the Sahel and the work we can do there together to help stabilize countries that are in very difficult situations. We engaged on a number of issues relating to Spain’s upcoming presidency of the European Union. And of course, we discussed how we can build on our cooperation across all of these priorities and many others when President Biden hosts President Sánchez at the White House later this week.
This includes accelerating our joint efforts to cut carbon emissions and increase energy security, expanding inclusive economic opportunities, fostering entrepreneurship, and deepening our educational exchanges and scientific collaboration – something we spent some time discussing today – all priorities that will benefit the people of our nations and people around the world. With that, José Manuel, the floor is yours.
FOREIGN MINISTER ALBARES: (Via interpreter) First of all, I would like to thank Tony Blinken for his hospitality and warmth during this trip to Washington. The Secretary of State is a good friend with whom I have had several meetings already, and these meetings have always been extremely fruitful for the relationship between our two countries. Spain and the U.S. share values and interests, such as the fight against climate change, preserving the environment, defending democracy and human rights. And on the international stage, we defend an international rule-based order and we work together on this within NATO, the G20, the UN, organizations in which we share the defense of these common values. These are the foundations upon which our relationship is based, and we would like to continue to build upon this to create stronger ties in the future.
In May, we signed the Madrid Declaration. This was the first U.S.-Spain declaration signed in two decades, which has strengthened our bilateral relationship even more in many areas. And one year later, the excellent state of our bilateral relationship is shown with the meeting that we just had and the meeting that our president of government will hold with President Biden this Friday.
This bilateral relationship is based on many ties: our businesses, which have a significant presence in both countries; our universities, who cooperate very closely; and we are also united by the strengths of our languages. We have talked about many of these issues, areas of cooperation today – our defense cooperation, our migration agreement via which Spain and the U.S. will work together in order to promote safe, humane, orderly, and regular migration from Latin American countries. We discussed Palomares as well as the renewal of the Scientific Cooperation Agreement to continue to promote working together with NASA, especially the Artemis program. We just signed an MOU to work together in one additional area: protecting the human rights of LGBTQI people through the world Equality Forum.
We unfortunately for many months have done – we’ve talked about the unjust, illegal war against Ukraine, and we talked about the transatlantic ties that tie the U.S. and Europe. Regarding the situation in Ukraine, I have discussed with Secretary Blinken the unconditional support of Spain as long as necessary with that country. We support Ukraine in its defense against the violation of its territorial sovereignty. This will – we will maintain this until peace comes once again to the borders of Ukraine and Ukraine is able to recover total sovereignty.
We also discussed how the Sahel is increasingly – has increasing geostrategic importance. We have discussed in NATO the threats that come from the southern flank, and we will continue to work to strengthen stability and development in the Sahel and coordinate our cooperation missions via AECID and USAID.
The transatlantic unity is key. It’s always key, but it’s even more so in moments like these – unity among Europeans, but also transatlantic unity with the U.S., which is a natural ally to Spain in many areas: health, energy, food security. In all of these areas, cooperation with the United States is vital.
We also spoke of the next EU summit during the presidency of Spain. This will be one of our priorities because we think that the entire Atlantic should become closer. There must be closer ties between our shores and we must create more stability and growth.
In sum, I would like to once again thank you for your hospitality, Tony. We will continue to work on these foundations of our relationship of friendship and cooperation, and that is why this week will culminate, then, with the meeting between President Biden and President Sánchez, which will show once again the excellent relationship that binds our countries.
MR PATEL: We’ll take four questions. First, Andrea Mitchell from NBC News.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Foreign Minister and Mr. Secretary. Thank you very much.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good to see you, Andrea.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, as you know, China is the largest holder of U.S. debt. With the gridlock now in Washington, are you concerned that China and Russia will try to take advantage of the economic chaos that could ensue here and the gridlock right now, and that would damage the credibility of American democracy and economic power around the world?
And I’d also like to ask you what your message is to U.S. companies – companies working in China that are being raided by the police under their new law, their counterespionage law, that accuses them of espionage for sharing data with the United States. What do you recommend that American companies do? Is there anything the U.S. can do to protect them?
And Mr. Foreign Minister, your prime minister was recently in Beijing. China’s foreign minister is now on tour in Europe and has threatened reprisals against the EU if it sanctions the Chinese companies that have supported Russia’s war machine. Would you – is the EU – should the EU punish Chinese companies and retaliate against them despite the risk that China will have reprisals against the EU?
Thank you both very much.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks very much, Andrea. On the debt ceiling, I’m not going to get ahead of the White House and our colleagues there. I think, as a general proposition, it’s proven time and again to be a bad bet to bet against the United States. But I’m not going to get ahead of the conversations that are going on now.
With regard to the treatment of some of our companies and other companies in China, I’ve seen those reports and we obviously have concerns. I mean, one of our general concerns – and it’s a concern shared by many allies and partners – is the way some of our enterprises are treated in China, certainly treated in a way that’s not reciprocal to the way that many Chinese enterprises are treated, businesses are treated, around the world. So that’s one of the challenges that I think a number of countries have. It’s something that we talk to the Chinese about. To the extent, of course, that China wants to have a positive business environment that attracts foreign investment, that attracts foreign businesses, the actions that it takes with regard to those businesses will have a big impact.
FOREIGN MINISTER ALBARES: (Via interpreter) China is a country – due to its demographic weight, its military capabilities, its economic weight – is extremely important for global challenges such as climate change or such as using the influence that it has on Russia and Vladimir Putin in order to achieve peace as soon as possible in Ukraine, because the war in Ukraine is a – it’s not a European war, but it is a war in Europe. It’s a war against the principles of the UN Charter, and China is a permanent member of the Security Council. So it is in that spirit that we work with China.
What we want with every country worldwide is equal conditions under which we receive the businesses of any country in the world and where our businesses are able to go to those countries. And in Europe, all European countries are open societies. We believe in free trade and we believe in a relationship with all countries on the planet. We do always require equal conditions for the businesses that we receive and for our businesses that go to any other country.
MR PATEL: Eduard Ribas from EFE.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Thank you very much. I would like to ask the minister about the migration agreement with the U.S. Could you clarify how many migrants will be received by Spain, during what time, and especially what migratory status would these migrants have in Spain? I would also like to know if you’ve celebrated any agreements to transfer the Palomares territories and when that would happen, when that transfer might happen.
And for Mr. Secretary, same topics. Are you planning to expand the migration agreement with Spain to other European countries? And there is any U.S. commitment to keep the contaminated lands from the nuclear accident of Palomares? Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER ALBARES: (Via interpreter) Regarding the migration agreement and the details of the agreement, the ministry of the interior and the ministry of inclusion, which are the two ministries in charge of deploying and implementing the agreement in and of itself, they will provide all the details in this regard.
What I would like to point out is that this agreement responds to a shared vision vis-à-vis a very complex phenomenon, which is migration. We need to offer protection to people who for different reasons may need our protection to seek refuge and asylum in each of our countries. We also need to show that irregular migration, the migration that puts so many innocent lives at risk, people who only want to legitimately improve their lives but they choose the wrong path, that is not the only path that exists. There’s also safe, orderly, humane, and regular migration.
And when all of us have labor markets, we have needs in these labor markets – we need labor in very specific industries. So we would also like to show what we’re doing already with other countries through migration programs, circular migration programs. We’d like to show that that migration path, the regular, orderly, safe path exists. And in the end, this is the best tool that we can use to discourage irregular migration. And of course, Spain will also be one of the countries that will join any initiative that may help our Latin American brothers and sisters with whom we share so many things, and so many of them area already living perfectly integrated in Spain and they promote our economic development and prosperity.
We discussed – I was saying this earlier – the Palomares area. I would like to state that both parties are willing – this is a complex issue technically speaking. It’s been 60 years that this has been ongoing, and there are a series of technical issues that we need to solve and we need to expedite before making final decisions.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. With regard to the Regional Processing Centers, these are centers that give would-be migrants the opportunity to stay in their own countries and to determine whether they have a legal pathway to come to the United States, or to Spain, because Spain is participating in this process, and Canada has also indicated its interest in participating. That means that, again, a would-be migrant can stay in their own country, go to one of these centers and find out whether they qualify for a legal pathway, including, as José Manuel laid out so clearly, a worker or labor-related pathway so that they can perhaps fill a gap that exists in a given country when it comes to its labor market.
So we are very pleased and appreciative that Spain is participating. As I mentioned, Canada is participating as well; conceivably other countries could. Needless to say, in the case of Spain, there’s a particular logic because, one, the needs of the labor markets in Spain; two, the shared language makes it particularly interesting and attractive.
With regard to Palomares, just as the minister said, first, we recognize the importance of this issue. And as he said, it goes back many years. We conducted remediation after the 1966 accident at Palomares. We now anticipate that negotiations related to further cleanup efforts will restart soon, and we very much look forward to working with our Spanish partners on this.
MR PATEL: We’ll next go to Tracy Wilkinson from The Los Angeles Times.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you. For Secretary Blinken, please, Spain – and like many countries in Southern Europe, those especially who have ties with the so-called Global South – have been more reluctant to join in the Ukraine mission. So you’ve listed a couple of steps here today, and I just wondered if this is – if you’re satisfied, if you’d like to see more coming from Spain and countries like it.
Y para el Ministro Albares, in English:
Following on my colleagues’ questions on immigration, you talked about the misión compartida, the shared mission. Is it difficult for Spain to continue to receive more immigrants and refugees given you mentioned the many who have come from Ukraine, already several – several thousand from Venezuela and Cuba, and not to mention Northern Africa? So I just wonder how politically that goes over.
And then second question on that issue, and last question, the United States talks about the root causes of immigration a lot, and one of those root causes is just dire, dire poverty. Do you – some of that poverty is exacerbated by sanctions that the United States maintains on Cuba and to a lesser extent Venezuela. And I wonder if you would think it a good idea for the United States to ease up on some of those sanctions. Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Happy to start, José Manuel. Tracy, thanks very much. I have to tell you I don’t share the premise of the question. Spain has been unwavering in its support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It’s made that crystal clear not only through what it says but through what it does. I mentioned earlier the very strong support when it comes to making sure that Ukraine has what it needs to defend itself against Russian aggression and to retake territory that’s been seized from it by Russia, including the provision of very important weapon systems through the process that we put in place, the coordinated effort that Secretary Austin has been leading.
You’ve seen strong support for EU sanctions on Russia to continue to exert pressure on Russia for the aggression. The humanitarian support has been remarkably strong, both in what it’s provided to Ukraine and also in the generosity of the Spanish people in taking in more than 175,000 Ukrainian refugees. So we have seen from day one extraordinary solidarity and a strong sense of common purpose and common action when it comes to supporting and defending Ukraine.
The other aspect of this that’s so important is this: Even as we together and with many other countries are working to defend Ukraine, to help Ukraine defend itself and to deal with the Russian aggression, we are relentlessly focused on the many issues that are affecting people all around the world. You mentioned the Global South. If you look at the agenda that we just had at the recent G7 meeting of foreign ministers heading toward the leaders meeting coming up, I’d say two-thirds of that was on the issues that are of most concern to people around the world and including in the Global South, whether it’s climate, whether it’s energy, whether it’s food security, whether it’s global health, whether it’s finding ways to advance inclusive economic growth, whether it’s meeting the development goals that the international community has set for itself.
Part of the challenge, of course, is that the very aggression by Russia against Ukraine has actually exacerbated some of these problems, and we’ve made that crystal clear. We are the solution to the problems, not the cause of the problem. And I think that’s been clear in the focus that we brought, including, for example, on making sure that the Black Sea Grain Initiative is extended. You have a situation now where Russia continues to try to use food as a weapon in its war against Ukraine. And Spain, the United States, many other countries are determined that that not happen because the victims in this case are people throughout the Global South who desperately need the food and desperately need to make sure that food prices are held – are held in check.
So I think we’re both deeply appreciative of Spain’s engagement and leadership on Ukraine, but also together very focused on this broad array of issues that are of fundamental concern to people around the world.
FOREIGN MINISTER ALBARES: (Via interpreter) Yes, I’d like to continue along the lines that Tony Blinken was mentioning. I wanted to correct that mistaken perception of our support for Ukraine, which is total since day one. And I said it today publicly but I’ve said it on many other occasions: It will be there for as long as necessary.
Spain denounced from day one the illegal and unjustified aggression of Russia towards Ukraine. We supported the 10 packages of sanctions from the EU towards Russia. We have supported the use of the European Peace Facility to purchase weapons for Ukraine. We were with the U.S. to meet with the International Criminal Court to prosecute for the war crimes present in Ukraine, and we do have police officers from our scientific police in Ukraine helping to collect evidence. We provided the largest humanitarian aid package ever provided by Spain to another country. We have received 170,000 Ukrainian refugees under (inaudible) specific statute and we are of course willing to receive more if this unfortunate humanitarian catastrophe were to continue. We have provided military equipment to Ukraine that includes Leopard tanks, anti-air batteries.
And of course we do speak with our friends about what is now called the Global South. We talk to our Latin American friends, we talk to our African friends, because as Tony very rightly pointed out, there is a food crisis, there is an energy crisis that is a global crisis and affects all of these countries. And we want to send the message that of course we are completely committed to Ukraine, but we are not forgetting the needs of all of these countries. That is why Spain has tripled its cooperation programs for development in Africa. In January I talked to all African Union ministers and I announced a package of millions of euros for the African Union and for insecurity situations.
When it comes to migration, this phenomenon – this is your second question – and Spain knows this issue very well. We, as a country, have a land border with Africa. It’s 14 kilometers away from Africa, and we are very familiar with the complexity of migration. And one thing we do know is that this is a global phenomenon, and therefore we must act together. And this is the spirit with which we are going to start to work with the U.S. and Canada now, as we do with many other countries, and we do this in the EU as well. We will do this in order to tackle this phenomenon, which includes irregular migration, but there are many other issues when it comes to migration.
We cannot just become resigned and – resigned to the fact that the Mediterranean and the Atlantic will be the grave of thousands of innocent people who desperately want to improve their lives. And we need to tackle the root causes as well, because while the inequality between different countries is what it is, we’re facing structural – a structural problem, and structural problems do not have one solution; rather, there is management, and part of this management is improving development cooperation programs as Spain is doing to promote regular migration programs like what we’re doing with the United States, and we do this in many other ways as well.
And regarding Cuba and Venezuela, Spain has a very special – in the best sense of the word – relationship with all Latin American and Caribbean countries. We are an authentic community of an Ibero-American family, and we want – what we want for all Latin American countries is the exact same thing that we want for Spain: prosperity, democracy, and freedom.
MR PATEL: Final question, Sara Canales, La SER.
FOREIGN MINISTER ALBARES: (Via interpreter) And I will not discuss the decisions of other countries.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Mr. Secretary, this week the U.S. has agreed to send two additional destroyer ships to the Spanish naval base in Rota, increasing the number from four to six. How will this increase in military presence impact global security? Why now? And could we see more U.S. military presence in Spain?
And then Latin America will be a big priority during Spain’s turning presidency of the EU – oh, I’m sorry – EU, yeah. How can the U.S. through this relationship with Spain benefit from this? What message does this send to the competitors such as China?
(Via interpreter) Regarding Title 42, Minister, there’s a lot of uncertainty and political divisions in the U.S. regarding the border as of Friday. Are you worried about this uncertainty in Spain? Are there guarantees from Washington, assurances that the situation can be kept under control? How have other EU countries seen this agreement?
And when it comes to Palomares, you’ve talked about complexity, but could it be resolved before 2024?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much. So we were very pleased to be able to sign the Defense Cooperation Agreement with Spain, the enhanced agreement, and I think it’s simply a reflection of the fact that one of the important aspects of our relationship is our cooperation in the realm of defense. And of course, we’re joined together as NATO Allies. Spain is playing a critical role in NATO. In fact, the work that it’s done since the Russian aggression against Ukraine to help reinforce the eastern flank of NATO is essential to the work of the Alliance and making sure that all of our members are defended.
And in this context but also in the broader context of shared security interests, having stronger defense coordination, cooperation between us is important. That is one aspect of the relationship. I’m not going to predict any future deployments one way or the other; that’s really up to our military experts and officials to determine. But we’re very pleased that we were able to reach this agreement and strengthen and deepen even more the cooperation that we have on defense.
And again, I emphasize it’s on defense. The work that we’re doing together is to defend our people, to defend our interests, to defend our values, to defend ourselves at a time when there are increasing challenges to our common security.
With regard to Spain’s EU presidency, we welcome it for a number of reasons. One is, exactly as you say, the close relationship that we have, the extraordinary breadth and depth of our dialogue, I think will also be very beneficial when it comes to the relationship between the United States and the European Union, something that we have invested in very significantly over the last two and a half years.
The entire premise of President Biden’s approach to foreign policy and to U.S. engagement in the world starts with the re-engagement, the re-energizing, the rejuvenation of our core partnerships and our core alliances, and one of our core partnerships is with the European Union. We have an extraordinarily rich agenda with the EU. One aspect of that agenda is how we see some of the challenges posed by China, and I think what we’ve seen over the last couple of years is a remarkable convergence in the approach that we’re both taking. And I think if you look at the different articulations of policy that have put out, as well as the work that we’ve actually been doing – including, for example, through the Trade and Technology Council – with the EU, you see that convergence.
And I think there’s a shared understanding that the relationship that we all have with China has aspects that are clearly competitive. There may be aspects that are adversarial, and it’s our determination to make sure that competition does not veer into conflict. And there are aspects that can and should be cooperative because they’re important things that might be important to our citizens as well as to people around the world that we should look and find ways to do together.
And I think the EU, European partners, have very much the same perspective. The EU is one place where we can really continue to work on the details of how that convergence of views translates into specific policies, and having Spain in a leadership role I think will only advance those efforts.
FOREIGN MINISTER ALBARES: (Via interpreter) Regarding migration, there’s several things. Migration is a global phenomenon, and we see it everywhere worldwide, and this is a challenge that we need to tackle from a – using a multilateral approach. Spain has a way of handling this challenge which includes constantly fighting against the mafias that smuggle human beings, a political dialogue with the origin and transit countries to offer regular pathways for migration – orderly migration – and to protect those who do warrant refuge and asylum in our countries.
And especially we must – we fight against the deeply rooted causes of migration, and that is why this year we passed a new law for development cooperation that puts Central America and Africa at the center of our cooperation. And we have tripled our cooperation programs in many countries.
Now, when it comes to the Palomares soil, there are technical aspects there that we must discuss at the technical level, not at the political level, and that is where we will set the different stages that must be followed. The important thing is that the will is there in our dialogue.
MR PATEL: Thank you.