Background Briefing on APEC Summit Meeting

Special Briefing
Senior State Department Official
Far Eastern Federal University
Vladivostok, Russia
September 8, 2012

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. We are in Vladivostok for the first day of the APEC Summit meetings. I just want to give you a sense of Secretary Clinton’s morning before the leaders' meetings actually start today. First of all, on the APEC agenda itself, our trade folks and those who have been negotiating the documents expect good outcomes, I think you’re all aware, on the environmental growth agenda and the Green Growth follow-on. The ministers of foreign affairs have already agreed on a high-quality list of 54 environmental goods that will be capped at 5 percent or lower tariffs by 2015. This, as we discussed on the plane, follows up on President Obama’s agenda that he set in Hawaii.

On wildlife, ministers have agreed to strengthen enforcement and capacity building to combat the illegal trafficking of endangered and protected wildlife. On food exports, ministers have confirmed that they will not impose market-distorting export restrictions on food products in response to the recent drought conditions around the world. This will have the effect of calming markets and easing fears of social and economic instability that past export restrictions have caused in the developing world. And just to remind that APEC’s 21-member economies comprise nearly three billion consumers. They account for 44 percent of world trade. They represent 56 percent of the global economic output. That was $39 trillion in 2011, and six of America’s ten largest trading partners are in APEC.

The Secretary -after she and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov signed the two agreements this morning on Antarctica and on regional cooperation and released a statement on Beringia - they sat down for a bilateral breakfast. That, for you Russophiles, included blini with red caviar, quite delicious. They began by talking about our bilateral economic relationship and the need on both sides to implement the aspects of the bilateral agreement that we made that facilitated Russian entry into WTO. There’s a bunch of things that need to be done there, and the Secretary also noted that we expect Congress is going to begin voting quite soon on Jackson-Vanik and lifting it.

They talked about Syria as they always do. The Secretary made many of the points that she has made in the past to Russian leaders and that she’s made in particular to Foreign Minister Lavrov, most recently when we were in St. Petersburg in June, that in the context of the escalating violence, we have got to do more if we can in the Security Council to send a strong message. They talked again about the document that the Security Council nations issued at – in Geneva. And, as you heard her say when we were in Beijing, about thinking again whether it makes sense to try to go back to the Security Council to endorse that document. But as the Secretary has said all the way along, if we do that, it won’t actually advance the agenda unless there are real consequences for noncompliance. You know in the past we have talked about – and what we tried to get the last time were Chapter 7 economic sanctions in the event that there was no compliance. So they – I would say it was a relatively open discussion about whether that Geneva document could be the basis for doing more together, and that conversation’s going to continue as we all go to New York for the UN General Assembly. I don’t think there was any particular expectation on timing, but to not close the door to that as an option.

On Iran, they compared notes on the P-5+1 process, where, as you know, the Russians have been very strong partners. We’re very united in our message to Tehran. The conversation also focused on the upcoming Board of Governors meetings of the IAEA and trying to be in sync in that context. They talked about North Korea. I would say it was a relatively light comparing of notes about where we are with the young leader. As she did in China, I think, she was quite clear that the United States is open to the possibility of working with North Korea if it shows serious intent to take concrete steps and come back into compliance with its obligations. So far we haven’t seen that, but that was the thrust of the conversation, whether there was more one could do to encourage positive movement on the North Korea side.

But they also compared notes briefly on the Nagorno-Karabakh. As you know, we had this incident that we were quite unhappy about where an Azerbaijani who had been incarcerated in Hungary was recently released. And there again, in the context of the UN General Assembly, we generally try, as Minsk Group partners, to do some kind of Nagorno-Karabakh event. So the question becomes whether that makes sense now, whether we can be supportive in calming tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan. And then, of course, as she always does, the Secretary raised our ongoing concerns about human rights in Russia, rule of law, recent sentences, recent legislation passing in the Duma that would appear to restrict freedom of speech, the actions of NGOs, all those issues that you know very well.

The Secretary also had the opportunity to spend an hour or 45 minutes with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. As [Senior State Department Official] talked to you about on the plane, Prime Minister Lee was in Beijing at the same time that we were there. He gave a very strong speech in Beijing that we pointed out for you. So they obviously compared notes on their respective visits to China; also in that context where we are in discussions on the South China Sea. The United States and Singapore obviously share the view that in this context of ASEAN unity, we need dialogue between ASEAN and China, and we need a process to begin moving toward implementation of a code conduct.

They also talked more broadly about the Pacific, the state of the world economy, particularly in the Pacific, and how global trends are playing out here. And then the other major subject was Iran where, as you know, Singapore was granted an exception not too long ago from NDAA sanctions. They talked about the ongoing need to be vigilant in implementing global sanctions and keeping the pressure on Iran so that it will stay focused in the context of the P-5+1 diplomatic track.

So why don’t I stop there, see what’s on your minds.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) issue, what was Lavrov’s reaction when she raised the human rights issues, and did she explicitly bring up the Pussy Riot case? And what was his response?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think you won’t be surprised if I’m not going to characterize his response. I think I’ll let the Russians do that. She talked less in terms of specific cases and more in terms of categories of concern, as I stated at the beginning – harsh prosecutions, new legislation that’s restrictive both on freedom of assembly on NGO activity, et cetera.

QUESTION: What did she say to Lavrov regarding the (inaudible) asked on the plane about Russia’s greater engagement in the Far East.


QUESTION: Particularly in (inaudible).

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I would say that in this meeting – in the meeting with the Russians, South China Sea per se did not come up. Is that what you –

QUESTION: That (inaudible) or just in general, the more specific as well. The stuff that you guys talked about said that she was going to talk about it with Putin tonight as well as Lavrov.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, as you know, we’ve been working bilaterally with foreign ministry to foreign ministry for some time on all of these things having to do with deepening our bilateral cooperation in Asia so that it can be supportive of the larger goal of strengthening the Asia-Pacific region as a whole. The three agreements, as you know, that they signed this morning, were very much in that spirit. So this is not a subject that they had a lot of spade work to do on. I think what the Secretary will want to do with Putin is make it clear to him that we welcome and want to work with Russia in the Asia-Pacific and that – and make sure that he’s aware of all the work that we’re doing together in our Bilateral National Commission on those kinds of things.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) she wanted know what Russia’s interest in – or something and ambitions were as it looks east. Where did that come up? (Inaudible) believed him when he said (inaudible) that is not – and it didn’t come up (inaudible).

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think in general the issue of cooperating more in the Pacific came up, but I think the expectation when [Senior State Department Official] briefed you yesterday whether this was something that she was going to focus on with President Putin.

QUESTION: With Putin, not with –


QUESTION: But (inaudible), can I make an appeal then that it might be, if and when we get a readout, there could be some focus on that part of the discussion.


QUESTION: On Syria, in this conversation with Lavrov, you said it was very similar to one that was had back in June. Is that because the position hasn’t changed or because the bulk of that conversation is going to happen this evening at dinner with Putin?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. I think what I meant there was not that it was an identical conversation but that the themes that they’ve been discussing for some time are not different in the sense that we remain extremely concerned that if the UN Security Council doesn’t take a stronger stand in support of peace and security, that it is abrogating its responsibility that we need to do it in a way where there are consequences for noncompliance, which the Russians have not been supportive of in the past and which we really think are necessary if it’s going to actually advance the ball. And as she has done and as we have discussed before, she said – she made clear to him that our concern is not simply about the violence in Syria, but about the extremely negative effect that it’s having in the neighborhood vis-à-vis stability in Lebanon, stability in Jordan, the stress on Turkey, and that if we don’t all do more to put international pressure on that we could see this thing spiral out control. And it’s certainly not in our interests. You can’t imagine that that would be in Russian interests. So it was another appeal to look at what we already have agreed with the Russians on, but put some teeth behind it in the UNSC context, if that's possible.

QUESTION: Is there any reason you believe that today’s conversation will have more of an effect than those in the past – in June?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, again, we have to also have the session with Putin this evening. There’s no question that Syria will come up there. The Russian side has repeatedly said to us, they’ve said publicly that they don’t have any love lost for Assad. I think they’re – and I won’t speak for them – but the concern has been less in the end state. We’ve already agreed that we need the violence to end, and we need the political transition could begin. It’s more how you get from here to there.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Are you saying now that the U.S. wants to go to the Security Council with China and Russia and see if there’s something that can (inaudible) on the fourth try? Are you committed to that now?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think the point that she would try to make was after the third try where we really hoped we were going to get somewhere and we didn’t, we made clear that it was not we who had blocked action in the Security Council. It was Russia and China. They are countries who regularly say to us there should be no international action unless the Security Council has blessed it. But in the absence of the Security Council meeting its responsibilities for peace and security, that we were going to begin – we were going to accelerate our work with likeminded countries to hasten the day, work on humanitarian, and plan for the day after. So that was our heavy focus, and it remains our heavy focus throughout July and August. But I think she was intent both in Beijing and in Russia on keeping the door open to going back to the UNSC if we think it can be useful. But in order to do that, it will have to have real consequences. So her message was clear to both. If you guys are prepared to make the UNSC of value, we’re prepared to work with you again. So she was looking for a signal from them. Let’s put it that way.

QUESTION: Have you had any sense, again, on both of your meetings (inaudible) there may be movement in the UN, again, or do you just have to wait and see if they show up (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think it’s too early to know. I think we’ll know more as we get towards UNGA and we see whether, as leaders come to New York, there is more of the spirit to make the UN work. But in the meantime, we’re going to continue to do what we’re doing, which is work intensely with those countries who share our view.


QUESTION: I have a few third tier questions. Missile defense, did the Russians bring that up?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It did not come up in this conversation. We’ll see. You know where we are on missile defense. We continue to want to have a cooperative U.S.-Russia and NATO-Russia program on missile defense to be able to work together. We think the threats we face are similar and are shared and that we could – that’s of value. But we haven’t been able to persuade the Russian side.

QUESTION: On Nagorno-Karabakh, there was the suggestion that the Minsk Group might somehow do what?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, again, in – traditionally UNGA has been a time – the UN General Assembly has been a time when Minsk Group countries have been able to – have pulled together either at the Assistant Secretary level or higher to try to encourage progress, et cetera. The environment is more difficult this year in light of this past incident. So they had a general conversation about trying to stay in touch and see whether we could cool things down and try to improve the environment heading into UNGA since everybody is usually there.

QUESTION: Okay. That would be sort of a normal Minsk (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, yeah, yeah. There’s not an expectation of a breakthrough.

QUESTION: And the Iran (inaudible) the Russians have (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Remember that the Foreign Minister and the Secretary meet all the time. And so there isn’t a need to sort of set the table of these meetings. They’re almost picking up conversations that have been ongoing whether they were in person or whether they were on the phone from where they were. So the Russians are very aware of the environment. So the question – the issue is more what P-5+1 countries can and should be doing in this period.

QUESTION: So I mean, the notes had already been traded either there on their level or slightly lower on the (inaudible).

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I mean, obviously, the context was discussed, but I’m not going to get into specific details.


QUESTION: Is this the first time she's spoken to (inaudible) since Geneva? Have they spoken since then by phone?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: When was – I cannot frankly remember when Geneva was.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) St. Petersburg.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It was the day after St. Petersburg. Right. I don’t think we’ve seen them since then, have we?

QUESTION: But she's talked to him since then?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’ve got to tell you in my current jet-lagged state, Indira, I can’t dredge that up, but I’m pretty confident they’ve spoken on the phone.


QUESTION: She mentioned in a speech that the Jackson-Vanik (inaudible).

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, she said that it would be taken up by the Congress this month.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Anyway, do you have some sense (inaudible)? And how is that affected by (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. I mean, what she was intending to note is that the Congress is going to start voting on Jackson-Vanik, the two houses. And I’m going to refer you to them as to whether other things are going to be attached.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) I mean, she’s promising them that we’ll move forward on Jackson-Vanik, but there’s this other side of it (inaudible).

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. I think other than saying what I’ve already said, I think that I’m not going to go any further on the details of that conversation.

QUESTION: But she (inaudible) her confidence they will move forward to

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I didn’t say that, Indira. She said that the Congress was going to start voting and that we have strongly pushed and been supportive, and we think that it’s time for Jackson-Vanik to be repealed.

QUESTION: But (inaudible) force something that’s (inaudible).

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: You know that – what we said, that we share the concerns that the Hill has about the human rights situation in Russia, and we’re continuing to talk to them about those issues, and as I said she raised in her (inaudible) today.

Okay, guys?

QUESTION: You want to separate the two?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: As I said, we continue to have concerns, and we are talking to Congress about how best to work together on this.

Okay? Thanks.

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PRN: 2012/T70-21