Background Briefing on the Secretary's Trip to Europe

Special Briefing
Senior State Department Official
En Route to Helsinki, Finland
June 26, 2012

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So I’ll walk you through Finland, Latvia, and St. Petersburg. In some ways, the first two stops on this trip are a continuation of the Nordic stops we did a couple of weeks ago with some of the same themes and issues and purposes, one of which is just to express our great appreciation for the cooperation of a great ally and partner in Finland and Latvia. But some of the other issues like climate, the environment, the Arctic, women’s empowerment, Afghanistan will be issues that the Secretary will be addressing with her counterparts in Finland and Latvia.

In Finland, she will see President Niinisto, Prime Minister Katainen, and Foreign Minister Tuomioja. And again, I expect they will talk a lot about Russia, the environment, energy, U.S. business opportunities, and once again, women’s empowerment, especially in Finland, where they’ve really taken the lead on the issue of women in government, women in business, and particularly women in Afghanistan consistent with Security Council Resolution 1325 on women and security.

Beyond the official meetings, she’ll visit the Marimekko factory, textile and clothing factory, a company that has a real social responsibility, and do an event on the environment, on the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, again a follow-up to what she did. This is an organization the U.S. and Sweden launched – and Finland will be joining it – on reducing short-lived pollutants. So she’ll do this environment event on the Climate and Clean Air Coalition with some members of the Finnish Government.

And that will be paired with an event on the League of Green Embassies. Our Ambassador to Finland Bruce Oreck has been a leader of an initiative to make our embassies and our residences more environmentally friendly and efficient. He’s made some great progress, a lot of innovative ideas. I think we’ve got 100 of our embassies around the world now in this League of Green Embassies, and this event will mark that. And the Ambassador can talk about some of the things he’s done to save us money and help the environment.

Onto Latvia, the next day, where again she’ll see the President Berzins, Prime Minister Dombrovskis, and Foreign Minister Rinkevics. Again, I suspect Afghanistan will be high on the list, Russia energy, and again, U.S. business promotion. After the initial meetings there, she’ll lay a wreath at the Freedom Monument, which is the place that President Clinton spoke, I think in 1994, and she accompanied him then. This trip, by the way, is the first by a Secretary of State to Latvia since 1993. And it will also be Secretary --

QUESTION: Did you get that from the Latvian foreign ministry? (Laughter.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. That’s our own information. The first visit by a U.S. Secretary of State since ’93, and it will be Secretary Clinton’s 100th country visited, a testament, I think, to the enormous activity that she has put into her job.

QUESTION: 100th country as Secretary of State?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: As Secretary of State. That’s right.

QUESTION: She’s been to Latvia before, did you say?


QUESTION: Well, no, that’s a little bit sketchy.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: One hundredth country visited as Secretary --

QUESTION: I think she’s at 125.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Counting countries visited (inaudible).

QUESTION: (Inaudible)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And then there’ll also be a dedication – we can come back to the issue of countries visited. There also will be a dedication of Sumner Welles Street, which the Latvians named after acting Secretary of State Sumner Welles, who of course launched the Welles Doctrine on non-recognition of the incorporation of the Baltic states into the Soviet Union, a proud moment for the United States that the Latvians also very much appreciate. So that will be wrapping up Latvia.

And then onto St. Petersburg, where the Secretary will attend the APEC Women’s and Economy Forum. She’ll speak on at the Forum on Women and Economy, following up on the work she’s done in this context of empowering women, especially their role in economies throughout the APEC region. Remember, she gave a speech in San Francisco with a number of milestones of how to promote women’s role in the economy, and this will be her opportunity to address the progress made since then and other things that need to be done throughout these countries to advance women’s role in economy and society.

She will also, in St. Petersburg, meet with Ms. Matviyenko, who is the former mayor of St. Petersburg and now the head of the Federation Council in Russia, the highest-ranking woman in the Russian Government. So she’ll do a bilat with her. And then she’ll have a bilateral dinner Foreign Minister Lavrov, which I imagine will, as always, cover a very wide range of issues and of course will cover Syria, given the prominence of that issue in our foreign policy and relationship with Russia.

I think that’s the essence of the walkthrough, and happy to take a couple of questions.

QUESTION: Do you want the one question or the half question, Matt.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) You want me to go first? Okay. So has she spoken to Lavrov today yet? What’s it looking like in terms of getting them on board for this meeting in Geneva?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, we’re still working on it, and Joint Special Envoy Annan is still working on it. We hope that there can be a meeting along the lines that you know about. For us, the key thing is that the participants in the meeting agree on the way forward, including a political transition in Syria. I think if Kofi Annan can get the proposed participants to agree on such a plan for political transition, than there will be a meeting. But that’s what we need to find out before we go to any meeting. There’s no point in just going for the sake of it. And we’re waiting to hear from the Joint Special Envoy whether he’s satisfied that the participants would indeed support a clear transition plan.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Can you answer his question about whether she’s spoken to Putin yet?

STAFF: She hasn’t spoken to Lavrov.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: She hasn’t spoken to Lavrov.

STAFF: (Inaudible) it’s based on her conversation with Kofi 20 minutes ago.

QUESTION: So what’s the sticking point for the Russians on laying out a potential post-Assad scenario?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The Russians can speak for themselves on the sticking point. I think they’ve --

QUESTION: I mean, what do you (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I think we’ve been very clear that there needs to be a political transition and that the current regime under Assad has lost the legitimacy, lost the support of the people by using violence against the people, and therefore the bottom line is the agreement needs to be a political transition to something else. I mean, that’s a pretty clear benchmark. And once that is created, there are a lot of different ways of moving forward from there, but that’s the bottom line. What it can’t be is just another round of dialogue for dialogue’s sake with the regime. And that’s our view, and I think frankly it’s the view of very large numbers of members of the international community.

QUESTION: Is the situation that the U.S. and its allies have put forward a proposal on what that transition should look like, and the Russians aren’t buying it? I mean, we hear a lot about the question about Iran, but that seems to be a sort of secondary issue in this meeting.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We have some clear ideas on what a political transition could and should look like. But again, this would be Joint Special Envoy Annan’s meeting. He is the one who is putting forward a plan that he would like to get the international community, the members of this meeting or the participants in this meeting, to agree to. So yes, we have some ideas on what that’d look like, but it’s not a U.S. plan or a U.S. paper. It’s the Joint Special Envoy’s plan, which we’re trying to support. And we have bottom lines of what it needs to include, the main one of which I just told you. And if that – if other proposed participants agree to that, then the Secretary will go to the meeting and we’ll try to advance it in that way.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) know by the time we land?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: By the time we land, I don’t think we’ll have certainty. He needs to – Special Envoy Annan needs to – if the condition I just put forward that the participants all agree on this plan – to be fulfilled, he needs the time to work that and find out.

QUESTION: Well, I understand that he wanted a response to his letter by close of business today.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right. So there’s still some time.

QUESTION: It’ll be 3 o’clock in the morning when we land. Does that mean (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We could know. I just can’t tell you that by the time we land, he’s going to be done with his consultations. I don't know if the other –

STAFF: We’ll give you --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- proposed participants will come back.

STAFF: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They – if they all come back with okay, yes, your proposal is fine, we’ll know. If there’s more work to be done, we won’t.

QUESTION: Right now, and based on her conversation with Kofi that you said she just had, it’s not a done deal yet?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We do not know yet that all of the participants are ready to come on that basis, and therefore we don’t know where we stand. We hope to know soon.

QUESTION: The issues of arms sales to Syria kind of – is that still a hot issue? Or once the helicopters were sent back, has that faded off? And secondly, what – are the Russians giving you any indication that they’re willing to drop Iran from the invite list?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: On the first point, the question – the two-part question was whether arms sales are still alive or a hot issue – Russian arms sales in particular, I suppose. And the second question was whether Iran’s participation was an issue or has been resolved.

On the first, I mean, our position is clear. Whether we’re talking about a specific ship or not, we think that Russian or any other arms sales to the Syrian regime is unhelpful and fuels the conflict and only perpetuates them in their power and feels it gives them support and legitimacy, and so we’re opposed to it. So the particular issue you’re referring to may not be as live as it was a week or two ago when there was great focus on the delivery of some attack helicopters, which we strongly opposed.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: But our concern about the issue has not gone away, nor, to be clear, has Russia accepted to refrain from selling arms to the regime. So in that sense, it is still a live issue. And I’m sure the Secretary will raise it with Foreign Minister Lavrov on Friday night, because our view hasn’t changed in the least regardless of whether a particular shipment is underway or not.

QUESTION: And Iran, the second (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, Iran, same things goes. We’ve said and she said very clearly that we don’t think Iran has been a constructive player on this issue, is a constructive voice. And nothing has changed on – in that position.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) from Russia that there could be a deal on that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, we don’t have any new news from Russia. You’ve heard them say that they think Iran should participate. You’ve heard Joint Special Annan say that he believes Iran needs to be part of the solution. But you’ve heard us say that we don’t think they’re particularly constructive. But you’ve also heard us say that what matters most from this meeting is that all of the participants agree on a plan for political transition. That’s what we’re trying to get out of it, and we’re trying to bring them to the table to agree on that, and that would be a major step forward. And that’s what we hope to get agreement on by the time we land or shortly thereafter.

QUESTION: Just to make sure then, the sticking point is the Russians – this idea of the – and should there be a transition or should there not be a political transition, is it that core issue? Or is it more how the transition takes place? Because they keep saying the people have to decide, which means talk, which means it’s circular and it never happens.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, but they also keep saying it’s not us to – it’s not up to us to choose the leadership, which implies that one potential way forward is for the current regime to stay in power. And what we’re saying is that doesn’t seem like a viable approach to us. So in that sense, the answer to your question is yes, the sticking point is a clear agreement that there needs to be a political transition.

STAFF: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: I have a Latvia-specific question. Can you come back and – after you’re done?

STAFF: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: No it’s not.

STAFF: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: But I want to – what I want to know –

STAFF: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Well, you can’t. Well, I mean, it has to do with the restitution of (inaudible) Jewish property and how big a concern that is for you guys and whether she’ll be raising it with the Latvians.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: She will raise it. The question was about Jewish communal property. And as you know, in the ‘90s, Latvia restored private property to Jewish citizens who lost it during the Holocaust, but never addressed the issue of communal property, which has remained an issue. And yes, the Secretary will raise it.

There are – there’s an active debate going on in Latvia now. There are a number of voices arguing that the government does need to take action and bring groups together and find ways to either restore property when it can be restored – for example, if it’s owned by the government – or pay compensation if it’s impossible to restore it because it’s in private hands or something like that. So there’s an active debate in Latvia, and our view is that they do need to find a way to – especially while Holocaust survivors are still alive – find a way to restore communal property where possible or pay compensation.

QUESTION: So she’ll make suggestions that you’d like to see, or is it really up to them?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, it’s up to them. I mean, these are complicated, difficult issues. But the main thing is that the issue be addressed, that justice be done, and that the people who lost property are made whole, to the best you can obviously decades after the fact.

STAFF: Thanks, guys.

QUESTION: Is this a top-level agenda item, or is it somewhere --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s somewhere on the agenda. It’s definitely on the agenda. Again, it’s not just because we’re putting it on the agenda, but it’s on the agenda in Latvia very much, and we’re arriving at a time it’s being actively debated.

STAFF: Thank you.

PRN: 2012/T67-01