Secretary of State Tony Blinken told me during an "Axios on HBO" interview that President Biden is meeting with Vladimir Putin nine days from now "not in spite of" the cyberattacks that disrupted U.S. meat and gas supplies: "It's because of them."
Why it matters: Biden will tell Putin "directly and clearly what he can expect from the United States if aggressive, reckless actions toward us continue," Blinken told me in the grand Benjamin Franklin State Dining Room.
Blinken said the U.S. "would prefer a more stable relationship" with Russia.
- "I can't tell you whether I'm optimistic or not about the results," he added. "I don't think we're going to know after one meeting, but we'll have some indications ... We're prepared either way."
Blinken sees his Job 1 as reconnecting with allies, and he said he's found a real thirst for U.S. engagement.
- "Our partners see the same thing that we do," he said. "If you're looking at all of the really big problems that we're trying to solve — ... like the pandemic, like climate change, like emerging technologies ... — no one country can do it alone."
- Blinken added that when the U.S. isn't leading, China and others fill the vacuum, "and maybe not in a way that advances our interests or values": "We've certainly seen China ... try to fill voids where we've been relatively disengaged."
On the Israel-Gaza conflict, I asked Blinken what'll happen if Israel produces no smoking-gun evidence that Hamas was occupying the building, housing AP and Al-Jazeera, that Israel bombed after a warning.
- "President Biden's been very clear: Israel has the right to defend itself, and it was on the receiving end of indiscriminate rocket attacks," Blinken began.
- "However, having said that: Israel, as a democracy, I think has an added burden to make sure it is doing everything possible to avoid civilian casualties. ... I think one of the things that we found ourselves, speaking only for the United States, is that the more transparency you can provide, the more legitimacy you're going to have."