Background Briefing: Senior State Department Officials En Route To Vladivostok, Russia

Special Briefing
Senior State Department Officials
En route to Vladivostok, Russia
September 7, 2012

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: All right. We are en route from Brunei to Vladivostok, Russia for the APEC meetings, where Secretary Clinton is sitting in for President Obama. I’m going to briefly go through the schedule that we expect, and then we’re going to have [Senior State Department Official Two] give you a little bit of background on the substance. [Senior State Department Official Two] is hereafter known as Senior State Department Official, as am I.

So we’re going to start our day tomorrow with a working breakfast with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov. Then the Secretary will attend the --

QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official One], can you give us times on them?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We’ll give you times later this evening, when we have it formally laid down, okay?

Then around midday, we’re going to go to the APEC CEO’s Summit, where the Secretary will give remarks to the assembled CEOs. The APEC Leaders Retreat formally begins at 3 o’clock. Session one is on trade and investment. The Secretary will then attend the APEC Business Advisory Council Dialogue with Leaders, where it will be four leaders and 10 to 12 CEOs. And she will give remarks there. That’s at about 5 o’clock.

QUESTION: Sorry. Can I – is she going to speak at this 3 o’clock thing?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: That is one of these things where some leaders are called on, so we’ll have to just see how that goes at 3 o’clock. In all of the retreat sessions not all leaders speak, so we don’t yet have a breakdown of which one’s she’s likely to speak at. We’ll let you know.

QUESTION: Okay. But since she is definitely not a leader is it possible that she (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No. She will speak at one or two. We just don’t have a full lay-down yet. Okay.

QUESTION: You said 5:00 p.m. is the business thing?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: 5:00 p.m. is the APEC Business Advisory Council Dialogue with Leaders. Then at 8 o’clock is the leaders’ reception, leading into dinner.

It is at dinner that we expect the Secretary will have a pull-aside with Russian President Putin. As you know, President Putin’s national security advisor, Mr. Ushakov, spoke about this in a press backgrounder yesterday. Some of the issues that we expect to come up in that pull-aside will be Syria, the economic situation globally, and our bilateral trade and investment environment in the wake of Russia joining the WTO. The Secretary will probably want to raise Iran. As you know, as host, President Putin has a responsibility to have bilaterals with all of the heads of state, but he’s making appropriate time for the Secretary at the dinner as well.

We then --

QUESTION: Is the Secretary – do you expect missile defense – is that on (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I think we’ll have to see if it’s raised by the Russian side, but it wasn’t one of the issues that Mr. Ushakov mentioned. Let me just get through the schedule. We’ll get through the brief, and then we’ll come back to questions.

Then on Sunday, the APEC Leaders Retreat second session begins at 11:00. The focus of that will be food security, which is one of the issues that the Russian side has wanted to headline at this APEC session. They have a leaders lunch at 1:10. Subject there is the global economy and the economy in the APEC region. And then as you know, we have our – the Secretary will have a press availability of her own and a meet and greet with our consulate in Vladivostok before we leave.

We also expect that during the course of the weekend she’ll have a chance to see a number of Asian leaders, and [Senior State Department Official Two] will talk a little bit more about the substance. She will – we hope to see Prime Minister Noda of Japan, President Lee of Korea, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, also of Singapore. And then given the alphabetical order in which the seating of the leaders meeting takes place, she’ll have a chance during the meetings to chat with the --


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. Prime Minister of Thailand and also – of Thailand and also of Vietnam.

Okay. Let’s go over to [Senior State Department Official Two] for a sense of the substance.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Great. Why don’t I just sit? So guys, just very quickly, just on where we’re going – I know you all know, but so Vladivostok in Russian means – “vlad,” as Steve knows, means power, and “vostok” is east. So it means power of the east and has always been sort of periodically through Russian history the point in which Russia has tried to be active in Asia.

And so one of the things that we’ve seen in that last couple of months is another renewed effort on the part of Russia to articulate that they want to play a larger role in the Asia Pacific region. So the last time this happened was in 1986 when Mikhail Gorbachev gave a famous speech in Vladivostok about Russia wanting to play a more purposeful role. In fact, they have not played a very active role to date. They are part of the Six-Party Talks with North Korea, but their engagement is episodic, and I think we’re going to want to be talking with them more directly about what their goals and ambitions are. We have welcomed them to engage in a stronger dialogue on Asia, and I think we’ll be looking to take them up on that possibility over the course of the next couple of months.

So APEC – we have a couple of things that we’re going to try to accomplish and nail down this year. The first is, last year the leaders came to a general agreement on trade within the APEC countries on environmental goods and services. But in fact, as is often the case in these complex negotiations, the challenge is in the details, and so we’ve spent the last year trying to nail down what specific products and services are included in that list, and we hope to be able to conclude that in the next couple of days. That’s actually quite significant if we can accomplish it because this is, by far and away, the largest potential growing market associated with environmental goods and services.

Second is, a lot of Asian countries are nervous about food security, particularly in the rice supplies and the cost of rice, and so that will be a subject particularly on the second day. But really what these meetings are about more than anything else are the conversations in the hallways and what takes place in the bilateral meetings. I think as [Senior State Department Official One] said, we anticipate the Secretary will have a range of discussions with Asian interlocutors, and most of them have requested a chance to sit down and talk with her.

I think we will see, in one fashion or another, every one of the ASEAN leaders. And in those discussions, we’re going to want to compare notes on what’s transpiring with regard to the code of conduct. I think the Secretary will also want to debrief them on her recent stops both at ASEAN and as it relates to her visit in China. She’ll be meeting with the heads – with the presidents of – the President of Korea and the Prime Minister of Japan. We’ll talk about a variety of bilateral business, but we will also remind both countries of the importance we place on their determination to work well together. And we have been concerned by tensions of late between Tokyo and South Korea – Tokyo and Seoul.

I also wanted to give you guys just a little bit of context of what we have seen since we’ve left Beijing. I urge you to take a look at the speech that Prime Minister Lee, the Prime Minister of Singapore, gave yesterday – a very important speech, and it’s important because it was given in Beijing on a number of fronts. First of all, his overall message is the message that Secretary Clinton and the United States and other countries have been articulating now for months – the importance of dealing with the issue of the South China Sea constructively, diplomatically, and articulating that the code of conduct is the best way forward.

He also was pretty clear about Singapore and ASEAN’s desire for there to be a good relationship between China and the United States, and in fact, he went into some detail about how the United States has historically rallied from challenging circumstances, and that he believes, as do others, that the United States is going to play an extraordinarily important role in the Asia Pacific region for decades to come, and in fact, we’re going nowhere. We’re going to be around and deeply engaged.

The other thing I would say is there is --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Going nowhere meaning that we’re not leaving.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: We’re not leaving, and that’s been – we’re not leaving Asia, not that we’re not going nowhere. Thank you.

There is also an interesting commentary that appeared the day after we left, which essentially is a very high-level critique of some of the commentary that took place, that has taken place, both about Japan and the United States – you probably have seen some reference to it – basically arguing that nationalism has led to some approaches and some overly heated rhetoric that is not in China’s interests. So I’d let the piece speak for itself.

QUESTION: Which paper is it in?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s in a Youth League – I’ll make sure you get it. But I think one of the reasons that it’s significant is that the day after we left, a Chinese official came in and said, “You know, you’ll want to take a look at this piece.” So, I mean, it clearly has the sort of high-level support and blessing of the leadership in terms of the overall message it’s sending.

QUESTION: Sorry, why are you choosing the – why does it have the high-level support?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I mean, it clearly – the way it’s been referenced and spoken to, referred to by Chinese officials to us, leads us to believe that it is --

QUESTION: Right. Why would this have the high-level support and not the one that said, “Hillary Clinton, go home, we don’t want you -- ”

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I’m just referring to this particular one.

QUESTION: I understand that. But why do you choose the --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. The piece is actually quite --

QUESTION: I mean, I know why you pick and choose, but why are you trying to (inaudible)?


QUESTION: Why is this one (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: No, I’m actually not trying to spin you on it. I think it’s interesting.

QUESTION: But why --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I think the reason – I think it’s interesting. It does suggest it’s not just about the United States; it’s also about Japan and other – it suggests that the leadership is anxious about some of the expressions of nationalism, and that some of these statements and commentaries actually are unhelpful in the pursuit of an effective Chinese foreign policy.

And so it begins with a very clear set of statements that Secretary Clinton made about the Asia Pacific being big enough for the two countries. And it references earlier statements from Chinese officials that are quite similar and sort of says, look, that’s the right approach. And clearly we have to be careful that patriotism is good, but it can have negative manifestations. I’d rather you guys read it, make your own judgment.

But I think it does play into some of the nationalism and anxiety that has been swirling in Beijing and we’ve witnessed over the course of the last couple of weeks.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Let’s finish this (inaudible), and then we’ll come back to questions.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I think I’ll just stop now and let you guys, if you have questions.

QUESTION: Just on that, so you think that they are intentionally trying to climb down from the – I don’t know – maybe not precipice, but where they had – where the commentaries that were in the other state-run media were before, that the leadership is making a conscious effort to try and – sorry – to try and lower the temperature.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Matt, it’s a really good question. The honest truth is – I think if I said that, it would be too much spinning. I just – I think we have to see more. I mean, I think the truth is that it is very – both are quite interesting; the fact that this took place right before we were coming in and it happened after we left. And so I think it does suggest, though, that for the Chinese leadership, it’s like riding the back of the tiger for some of these issues.

On the day we were there, the citizen that ripped the flag off the Japanese ambassador’s car and accosted him was sentenced to four or five days. And it’s clear that they are not only concerned by the issues associated with tensions between the United States and China, but also what’s going on between China and Japan as well.

QUESTION: Thanks. I have one tiny brief one and I’ll shut up after that –

QUESTION: No, no. That’s fine.

QUESTION: -- and let other people – but the Singaporean speech, why – I mean, I understand why you like it --


QUESTION: -- but I’m not sure why – I mean, why do you really – do you think that his words to the Communist Party actually are going to have any resonance?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Well, I mean, look, the speech has numerous audiences. It’s clearly directed both at the leadership in China, but also to other ASEAN states. And I think what Singapore’s trying to do is create more space for dialogue and discussion and has made very clear that the approach that we have articulated has found some common cause among ASEAN leaders.

QUESTION: Sure. Japan and South Korea, the Secretary’s going to be meeting separately both with Prime Minister Noda and President Lee. The two of them, as far as I know, are not going to meet; their relations are quite bad. What can the U.S. do to try and encourage better relations? Do you expect some sort of progress, or do you think it’s a really bad situation right now?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I think just the kind of encouragement that I just gave. Look, this is a matter for Japan and South Korea. We encourage dialogue in each of our bilateral interactions with them. We’ve underscored that a positive relationship between Japan and South Korea is in the strategic best interests of the United States, and we’ll continue to do so.

QUESTION: Do you expect any progress coming from here?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Frankly, I just – we’re going to have to see how the next couple of days play out.


QUESTION: Did I hear you correctly when you were talking about Russia perhaps taking more of a role in getting involved with North Korea?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: They’re already a member of the Six-Party Talks. So they have been, for years, part of that dialogue. The question is whether they’re going to be more active in other things in Asia, generally. And they are indicating that they want to play a larger role, generally. They see economic opportunities and the like.

QUESTION: Any other detail on the trade element of this? Because I understand they’ve already agreed to the 15 percent.


QUESTION: Tell us a little bit more about that.


QUESTION: It’s just about the list at this point –

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah, the list. And that will be released.

QUESTION: When do you expect the list?


QUESTION: Oh, you do? Okay.


QUESTION: Who’s in charge on the U.S. side of negotiating that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Bob Hormats. And he’s going to brief you.

QUESTION: Is he standing in in place of USTR Kirk?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I don’t actually know the – I don’t know the procedural answer to that. I know who is there. We have our ambassador for APEC, Atul, is there and Bob Hormats, and the Secretary.

But I don’t know who is there from USTR. I think Demetrios is there as well, who is the DUSTR, I think –


QUESTION: So Kirk himself is not coming. Does that mean that she’s in charge of it, of the trades?


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. The other thing that the Secretary will be involved in, obviously, is articulating the importance of making progress on TPP. She raised that today with Brunei, about how important it is that at the next meetings that we make progress. She’ll underscore that with Vietnam and the other players as well.

QUESTION: And don’t we have – we have TPP negotiations going on at the negotiator level in the U.S. as we speak.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Upcoming very shortly, yeah. Leesburg.

QUESTION: Quick one, going back to the Russia sort of moving toward Asia. Do you see that in any way analogous to our own pivot, and does it have any security element that you’re aware of? Are you – do you expect it will?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: It’s a good question. I – look, what we’re seeing is – these guys were – some of you were at the ASEAN Regional Forum. Every country understands the importance of Asia. So Europe, as a general practice, is becoming more actively engaged in Asia. That’s one of the reasons why the United States has inaugurated this strategic dialogue with the EU on how we can coordinate and work together on trade, on economic, on human rights, and other matters of mutual concern.

The Russians have historically played an important role in terms of arms sales, and some of their ships still traverse the Pacific. I think their desire always is to have a seat at the table when issues of import are discussed. The key is going to be whether the attention can be sustained and sort of the level of which they are focused on these matters.

QUESTION: Have you involved them, for instance, in the South China Sea discussion, given the whole –


QUESTION: – freedom of navigation thing?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah, and we try to brief them and speak with them on every matter, maritime issues, issues associated with North Korea. So we have had an active dialogue with them now for a few years. The question is whether that will be sustained at the highest levels.

QUESTION: And if it’s sustained, is that good for the U.S. or is it just a rival in the pivot to Asia?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Look, we don’t – there’s a lot that – much of what we’re working on in Asia is in the context of mutual challenges, right? So we all face – like, there are huge challenges of piracy. There are issues of proliferation. There are concerns about climate change, transnational issues. There are worries about trafficking. There are a number of things that, frankly, can only be solved if countries work together. And so, as we’ve often said, yes, there is competition in Asia, there’s rivalry, but there’s also a number of areas where countries need to work together if we’re going to make progress. And we fully expect to be able to identify those areas of common cause.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: One more and then we’re going to –

QUESTION: Sure. This actually might be something more for you, but the – did you want more face time with Putin? Is that acceptable, just a brief meeting there, or – since she is representing the President, was there an idea of having more of a meeting with Putin?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No, I think this is exactly what the two sides had planned, and what we expected given that she’s sitting in for the President, and she’s not the President herself.

Okay. Thanks.

PRN: 2012/T70-18