Background Briefing on Secretary Clinton's Meetings at NATO

Special Briefing
Senior State Department Officials
Hotel Amigo
Brussels, Belgium
December 7, 2011

MODERATOR: All right, everybody. We apologize for rushing you and for doing this in such a public place. We have to get upstairs so [Senior State Department Official One] can fill in the Secretary before she goes. We are in Brussels on background with [Senior State Department Official One] and [Senior State Department Official Two] to talk about the Secretary’s meetings at NATO this afternoon, further hereafter known as Senior State Department Official Number One and Number Two.

Take it away, Number One, please.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Okay. Thanks. And sorry, we’ll have to be a little bit brief, so I’ll just walk you through it, and maybe we’ll have some time for questions.

We did a bit of this on the plane, but let me just review. This – we see this ministerial – yeah. We see this ministerial as sort of the starting line on the road to the Chicago summit. And as I mentioned, that summit will focus on a number of things. But really at the center are the questions of Afghanistan, capabilities of the alliance, and the alliance’s partnerships. And we’re going to have sessions here at the ministerial on all of those topics.

The first session is on the Balkans, which is an area where NATO has an ongoing operation in Kosovo, some 6,000 troops, and we felt it was timely, given a lot of developments in the region. The United States remains committed to integrating the Balkans into Euro-Atlantic institutions, making it a core part of Europe. That requires stability, and the Secretary will express our strong support for KFOR, for the Kosovo Force that is there that includes U.S. troops. As you know, there are some hardline Serbs blocking freedom of movement and put up barricades, and there’s been clashes with KFOR troops. We want to make sure that this alliance is united in continuing to resource KFOR and ensuring a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement in northern Kosovo.

She’ll also express support for a continued open door towards the Balkans. A number of Balkan countries are aspirants and have relations with the alliance, and we want to express our continued support for that.

Then there will be a session on Russia missile defense and the Deterrence and Defense Posture Review, this a review that was launched at the Lisbon summit on getting the right mix of nuclear and conventional capabilities, and we’ll take stock of where we are.

I hate shouting, especially in a restaurant, but tell me if you can’t hear me.

On missile defense, we have made good progress since the alliance committed to deploying missile defenses against a growing ballistic missile threat in order to protect NATO European forces and populations and territory. Since the President launched our phased-adaptive approach to missile defense in Europe, we’ve had commitments and agreements with Poland, with Romania, with Turkey – most recently to deploy an important radar – the Netherlands, Spain has made national contributions. And we’re really making good progress so that by the time of the (inaudible) summit, NATO should be able to have an interim operating capability to – on the road to putting in place a functioning NATO missile defense system, which is in our common interests. As you know, we would like to do this together with Russia, and we’ve been working with the Russians to make clear that they understand it’s not about Russia, it’s not targeted at Russia, but rather we’d like to work together with Russia.

QUESTION: Could you say that again? You plan by Chicago to have a working --


MODERATOR: A NATO interim capability.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Which means that NATO will have the beginnings of taking over command and control.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Phase one of the system, the United States contribution, is already in operation, and this is part of a process of making this a NATO missile defense system and not just a U.S. one.

QUESTION: What does that mean, the beginning of command and control?


MODERATOR: Why don’t we get through the briefs and then we’ll go to questions, okay?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: -- finish, and then we’ll make sure we have some time. Then there’s a working dinner tonight on the question of partnerships, which are crucial to this alliance. Obviously, what we’re doing in Afghanistan relies on partners. I mentioned our role in the Balkans, which relies on partners. Operation Unified Protector, what we just did in Libya, was a critical example of how the alliance’s increasingly working with partners. And it’s been a priority for the Secretary, and we’re making good progress, and we’ll have a chance to review that at the working dinner tonight.

Second day, because we may not have a chance --

MODERATOR: Well, you’re going to come back and talk to them after the dinner, so you can do tomorrow tomorrow.


MODERATOR: Unless people want tomorrow now.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: The next day is an ISAF meeting and a NATO Russia Council meeting, but if you want to take the few minutes we have for questions, [Senior State Department Official Two] would be happy to answer.

QUESTION: When you said “open door” --

MODERATOR: Arshad, please.

QUESTION: -- that the Secretary wants an open --

QUESTION: Yeah. Two little quick things just to follow up on --

QUESTION: I’m, like, halfway through my question.

MODERATOR: But Arshad was – asked earlier.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. Go ahead. Please. Please, Arshad.

QUESTION: Just real quick, can you explain what you meant when you said you hope to have interim capability by Chicago or NATO hopes to have the beginnings of command and control? What does that mean, (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: It means that the command and control of the – of those components that are pledged to NATO, which is phase one, will shift from the U.S. to NATO.

QUESTION: And for those of us who don’t know, what is phase one?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Phase one is a capability to defend Southeastern Europe against short-range and medium-range ballistic missiles from the Middle East.

QUESTION: Then one other NATO, if you (inaudible) on Russia: Russia’s NATO ambassador was quoted either earlier this week or late last week as threatening to cut off the Northern Distribution Network because they’re unhappy with us about missile defense. Do you take those threats seriously? Or is that just --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: He said he was misquoted. We – and there’s no reason to believe that they’re going to do that.

QUESTION: Thank you.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: And I’d just repeat what I’ve said before. We’re determined to move ahead and not linking it to other issues of cooperation.

QUESTION: When you said open to – the Secretary wants to keep an open door to the Balkans for a relationship, you’re not suggesting even beginning discussions of a roadmap; you’re just talking about a more fulsome partnership?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, no, I’m just saying they are – nobody foresees these decisions on new members of the alliance of this ministerial or the upcoming summit. I was reiterating that a number of the countries in the Balkans are already – there are mechanisms established already for aspirants to work closely with NATO, and we want to reiterate that we welcome that process, we support it, we want them to continue their closer ties. And when they meet the criteria and can contribute to security, then they should join the alliance.

QUESTION: So would it be fair to say that this is the beginning of a more serious discussion of that? I mean, I know no decisions have been made, but when you say that, I mean, is there – is this the beginning of a more fulsome dialogue on a roadmap?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No, there’s really nothing new there. We have long stood for the principle that NATO’s door remains open, and the countries that meet the criteria should move forward.


QUESTION: How much is the NATO partnership stressed because of Afghanistan, because the Euro price is always --




QUESTION: Yeah. Financially, number one, but also in many other ways. How hard is it – how hard a sell is it?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: It’s surprisingly – this alliance remains a very strong one when it comes to Afghanistan. People thought that there was a rush for the exit; there is none. There’s been a plus-up of commitments by the – all countries. We have – we are in the process of recovering our search. Other countries are doing the same. But it’s all within a very planned and coordinated fashion.

QUESTION: What is it, like 45,000?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Still 30 – about 40,000 now going down to about 35,000 by the end of 2012.

QUESTION: Sorry, 30 to --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: 40,000 troops – non-U.S. troops in Afghanistan now, going down to about 35,000 by the end of 2012.


MODERATOR: This side? No? Anybody else?

QUESTION: Do you expect other issues, other than Afghanistan, to be issues in the NATO-Russia Council? Afghanistan and missile defense, I mean, are there other things that they’re – that they want to deal with or that you want to deal with?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, we’ve actually made progress in a number of areas. I mean, it’s a good question because the NATO-Russia Council is about more than Afghanistan and missile defense. We do counter-piracy cooperation together, counternarcotics cooperation together, military transparency --


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: -- counterterrorism, cooperative airspace, so --

QUESTION: Georgia?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Georgia we disagree on. It’s unlikely to be a major part of the discussion. We each have our views. We would continue to express our support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and relationship with, alliance, and contributions to Afghanistan, and I think you know what their view is.


QUESTION: The Russian ambassador’s comments aside, do you see any improvement in the Russian cooperation on the missile defense? Is there any progress in persuading them in this is not a threat to them and that they should cooperate, or are they still kind of holding back?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We made good progress at Lisbon on the principle of cooperating on missile defense and the notion that we should resume theater missile defense cooperation. But to be honest, we haven’t advanced it as much since then as we would like, and it’s something we continue to work on.

QUESTION: Do you expect it to be part of the focus of the Russians tomorrow?


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: And both sides remain committed – NATO, the United States, and Russia – to continue the dialogue to find ways in which we can foster cooperation.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. I mean, again, we’ve been just clear all along. We have to and are going to move forward on missile defense. It’s in our interests. It’s in the alliance’s interest. But it’s not targeted at Russia. And we would both benefit, we believe, if we could cooperate together on this even as we move forward with the European phased-adaptive approach.

MODERATOR: Okay. Anybody else before we give Arshad --

QUESTION: Why hasn’t there been enough progress on this? Is it because the promises – commitments that Russia made, do you think they’re in name only, or – and what’s the reason for that holdup?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I think the fundamental reason is that there are people in Russia who think that the system is directed against them, and they want assurances that that’s not the case. We are willing to give them the assurances because it isn’t directed against them, and we have offered a whole variety of ways in which we can cooperate to demonstrate that to them. And there is a debate about how to do that. But until the Russians are convinced that this is not about them, but it is about the threat from the Middle East, and we find a way to express that and find a way to demonstrate that through active cooperation, we’re going to have a disagreement.

QUESTION: There’s a hopeless case, though. I mean, for several years you’ve been trying to persuade them that it is in their interests and it’s not against them.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: And it’s not a hopeless case because it’s just hard work in which you, day in and day out, demonstrate that the capabilities of the system and the orientation and the purpose of the system is not about them. And as you get closer in cooperation, we’ll find ways to convince them. And if not, we will continue to deploy what we think is necessary for our security.

MODERATOR: Anne, did you have something?

QUESTION: Yeah, I’d like to follow up on that. Is there something you haven’t tried yet? You’ve been doing this for three years and it’s actually gotten worse.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Actually, we haven’t been trying it for three years. We’ve been trying it through Lisbon, so that’s just one year. And we are committed – and as Medvedev said in his speech, they are committed – to continuing to this dialogue. And we’re aiming to get something by the time we meet in Chicago.

QUESTION: Well, the effort to convince Russia that it wasn’t about them started long before Lisbon. I mean, they haven’t accepted that argument in any forum.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: They have not yet accepted the argument, and we’ll continue to make the argument. And we’ll see. If we can get an agreement, which is what we want, great. If we can’t get into an agreement, we will continue with the deployment.


QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Just last --

MODERATOR: Last one, Arshad.

QUESTION: Also on Russia, but we’re reporting that hundreds of people have been arrested as the Russian Government appears to be moving to try quell protests after the elections. What does the Administration think about the Russians seeking to crack down on protests in the wake of this election that the Secretary herself said that may not have been free or fair?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I haven’t seen all these reports. Obviously, we support the right to peaceful protest. And that’s what I have to say about it.

QUESTION: Have you raised this with them at all?

MODERATOR: I think it’s – our briefers here have been focused on preparing for this trip. I think it’s a question to ask in Washington today. Okay? Or we’ll be prepared for it later this afternoon.

Thanks, guys.

PRN: 2011/T57-20