Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg Before Their Meeting

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, good evening, everyone.  It’s a great pleasure to welcome Foreign Minister Schallenberg here to the State Department, to Washington.  And I want to come to the importance of his visit in a moment, but if you’ll just allow me – and I suspect, Alexander, you may have the same thoughts in mind – the horrific earthquake in Türkiye and Syria.  I know it’s very much on both of our minds.  We’ve seen the truly devastating pictures coming out of Türkiye and Syria today.  We’ve seen the collapsed buildings.  We see children being pulled out of the rubble.  Thank God there’s still people being pulled out of the rubble.  And I think we’re all profoundly touched by the images, the stories that we’re hearing.

Many of us have worked to swing into action to help our friends in Türkiye and also to help the Syrian people who are suffering from this.  The United States Government has been in full motion.  As I mentioned earlier today, we’ve deployed now more than 150 search and rescue personnel to Türkiye.  USAID, the Agency for International Development, is in the lead of our efforts.  We have U.S. helicopters that are supporting Turkish response efforts in very hard-to-reach areas.  We’re in close contact with the Turkish Government.  I spoke to my Turkish counterpart yesterday.  Other colleagues have been speaking to their counterparts and the broader response team that’s on the ground to support efforts both in Türkiye and across the border in northwest Syria to do anything we possibly can to come to the assistance of people who are in need.

In Syria itself we have U.S.-funded humanitarian partners that are coordinating lifesaving assistance, and we’re committed to providing that assistance to help people in Syria recover from this disaster, just as we have been their leading humanitarian donor since the start of the war in Syria itself.  I want to emphasize here that these funds of course go to the Syrian people, not to the regime.  That won’t change.  But as I said, we’re able to work through humanitarian partners on the ground in Syria.

We’ll have more to say in the coming days as these efforts continue, and as necessary expand or respond to the way the situation evolves.  But just very important to say at the outset how much we’re focused on this, how much our hearts go out to people in Türkiye and in Syria, and how much our efforts are going out to try to help in this hour of need.

Having said that, Alexander, I’m so pleased to have you here in Washington at the State Department.  Austria is a strong and deeply valued partner for the United States.  It’s been a pivotal player in European security and European stability.  We see that of course in the support that Austria is providing to Ukraine in its hour of need, but also critically in Austria’s leadership in the Western Balkans, where it really plays I think a unique leadership role – something that we’ll talk about – as well as now in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE.

So there is a lot happening in that space, a lot to talk about, and I’m grateful for this opportunity to do it.

FOREIGN MINISTER SCHALLENBERG:  Dear Secretary of State, dear Tony, thank you for the very warm welcome.  And I want to replicate we too were shocked by the news coming out of Türkiye.  I had yesterday and today contact with our friend and colleague Mevlut Cavusoglu.  We are offering up to 80 – above 80 search and rescue experts with dogs and doctors which should be on the way right now.  And obviously funds, but this can be only the first step.  I believe what they need most now is our solidarity and active engagement, and our deep feelings and condolences go out to our Turkish friends.

On – thank you for receiving me.  I had a very good and intensive day today, very good talks in Virginia, and I believe there’s a lot on our agenda.  My basic point is I believe in times of crisis you need to know who are your partners, and my aim is really to strengthen this also bilateral relationship – to have the strategic partnership we have as strong as possible, irreversible as possible.  For too long we have taken each other for granted, maybe, the European Union and the United States.  For too long we have stood back to back instead of shoulder to shoulder.  And I believe, if anything, the last 11 months have shown if we stand together, if we are united, we are a formidable force.  And that is, I believe, the biggest task of the coming year.

That is part of my message from my side, that yes, we want to stand together.  We have to.  There’s simply no alternative.  Trying times ahead of us, and you mentioned some of the regions where we or some of the organizations where we are asked to act, and I believe it’s the decisions which will be taken this year will be – will have long-term repercussions.  It’s still foggy, and we count also on your leadership, and I’m very thankful of everything you have done the last 11 months – you personally, the National Security Advisor and others, and the President, obviously, who will have – and I’m thankful for receiving me today, because you have the State of the Union address in the evening.  (Laughter.)  So a very special day.

And rest assured that Austria will do its share.  We have taken in 90,000 Ukrainians.  We have – I believe even some say number one in comparison to GDP as far as humanitarian aid is concerned.  And we know exactly that in this crisis, our unity, our strategic patience is the most – are the most necessary assets, and you can count on us.  Thank you very much.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, everyone.

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originally published at Politics - JISIP NEWS