US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken

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QUESTION:  On Sri Lanka, can you comment on the crisis there, as the country is facing the worst economic crisis since its independence, and its president is going to resign next week?  Would you attribute the crisis to the food and energy prices hike linked to Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, and if it would cause similar instability in other parts of the world?
 
SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, Nike.  With regard to Sri Lanka more broadly, this is something that we’re closely following.  We’re looking at the political developments.  We’ve seen now thousands of people of all backgrounds taking to the streets, looking for accountability, looking for transparency, looking for a better future.
I would note that the prime minister announced that he will step down when all parties agree to form a new government.  We’ve also seen reports from the Sri Lankan parliament, the speaker, who said the president intends to step down on July 13th.  We’re tracking all of that.
 
By the way, we would urge the Sri Lankan parliament to approach this with a commitment to the betterment of the country, not any one political party.
And then it’s incumbent on the government, whether it’s a new, constitutionally-selected government, the existing government, to work quickly to try to identify and implement solutions that will bring back the prospect of long-term economic stability, address the Sri Lankan people’s discontent, which is so powerful and palpable, over the worsening economic conditions, including power, including food – and I’ll come back to that in a minute – including fuel shortages.
 
At the same time, as we’re seeing this unfold, we condemn any violence against peaceful protestors and journalists.  The Sri Lankan people have a right to peacefully raise their voices.  At the same time, we call for a full investigation, arrest, prosecution of anyone involved in any protest-related violence and incidents of violence.
 
You asked about the impact of the Russian aggression in Ukraine on food insecurity and the impact, potentially, on Sir Lanka.  Well, I think we are seeing that impact around the world, and it may be one of the contributing factors to what’s happened in Sri Lanka, although I think there were, as I’ve just said, many others that have come together.
But what we are seeing around the world is growing food insecurity that has been significantly exacerbated by the Russian aggression against Ukraine.  And as we’ve had opportunity to discuss in recent days, there are more than 20 million tons of grain that are sitting in silos in Ukraine that can’t get out, can’t get out to feed people around the world because Russia is blockading Ukraine’s ports in Odessa, the Black Sea.
 
We have a fertilizer crisis that is having a real impact here in Thailand, a fertilizer shortage, prices that have gone sky-high.  That is very significant, especially in a farming country, a vibrant farming country like Thailand, because in the absence of fertilizer, we know that means that next year yields will go down, prices potentially will go up.  That’s one of the reasons that President Biden dedicated half a billion dollars a few weeks ago to incentivizing more production of fertilizer in the United States that we can share with the world.
 
So we’re seeing the impact of this Russian aggression play out everywhere.  It, again, may have contributed to the situation in Sri Lanka.  We’re concerned about the implications that it has around the world.  We’re working very hard to address those implications, including by putting significant resources into addressing humanitarian needs from food insecurity right now, as well as investing in longer-term production and sustainability, so that countries have the wherewithal to produce the food that they need over time.
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