Background Briefing on Secretary Kerry's Bilateral Meeting With Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov

Special Briefing
Senior State Department Officials
New York City
September 24, 2013

MODERATOR: Senior Administration Official, Senior State Department Official. This will be a readout of the bilateral meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov. Just to set expectations from the beginning, we’re not going to take you all into the room and give you a tick-tock of the specifics of negotiations. We’re here and we have Senior Administration Official Number One here to just answer some of the technical questions – we know there’s been a lot of confusion about how all the pieces mix together – but not to give an update on the negotiations or the status, so just wanted to set that expectation from the beginning.

But with that, we’ll turn it over to Senior State Department Official over here.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thanks for that. It was a bilateral meeting that was originally planned for 45 minutes, which went over 90 minutes. It was very constructive, very hardworking. Both ministers were fully engaged, sleeves rolled up, pencils out, text in front of them of the framework agreement, of the UN Security Council resolution that we’re working on, flanked by supporting teams. And they worked through the issues. There is more work to be done now by Ambassador Power and Ambassador Churkin, but I would say that the constructive spirit in which the two ministers engaged should help us in our work going forward.

The only subject – with the exception of a few little bilateral things that needed to be gone through at the end, the only subject of the meeting was Syria, both working on the steps to implement the framework and also talking a bit about moving forward to Geneva 2. And then one little bit of color: It was a tiny room with a Russian flag on one side, big portrait of Putin on the wall looking down at the proceedings. On the Russian side were at the table five men, all in dark suits, and about eight more behind. On the U.S. side, there was Secretary Kerry, flanked by four women, his – our UN Ambassador, Sam Power; secretaries – Under Secretary for Political Affairs, Assistant Secretary for Europe and NSS Senior Director for this part of the world; and then behind we had a more gender-diverse group of Americans.

MODERATOR: And now we’ll turn it over to Senior Administration Official Number Two.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So just a couple comments. The discussion, as the discussions previously, have all flowed from the Geneva framework agreement that was agreed to by Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov. It was this agreement that envisioned decisions by both the Executive Council of the OPCW in The Hague, followed promptly by a resolution by the UN Security Council designed to ensure that the obligations and commitments that were agreed to in Geneva were followed through, and to – in particular, the decision by the Security Council to reinforce the actions taken by the OPCW Executive Council.

The idea is that both the OPCW and the UN have substantial roles to play in undertaking this mission of securing and then eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons program. This is a unique challenge in terms of both the size of the program that is to be destroyed as well as the conditions under which this endeavor will be undertaken. And those conversations to establish this mission and mechanism are now beginning, and hopefully, based on the constructive discussions today, will advance as quickly as possible.

MODERATOR: Great. Let’s take some questions.

QUESTION: Can I just ask why – why was there a giant picture of Putin?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It was a Russian bilateral room. They were hosting us.

QUESTION: Oh, oh. So everyone is --

MODERATOR: In other meetings, they’ve been hosting in there too.

QUESTION: Everyone is subjected to this, I think – like Brahimi and (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There were also pictures of animals in there. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah? Like what?

MODERATOR: You know how President Putin is a nature enthusiast. So there were --

QUESTION: Yeah. Any of him shirtless?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There were no – they were not pictures of him. They were pictures of undersea animals, there was a tiger, some of his favorites.




QUESTION: How cute.

MODERATOR: A little more color. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: On a more substantive issue, which I’m sure you won’t address since you basically said you weren’t going to tell us anything in your opening, when you say there is more work to be done now by Ambassador Power and Ambassador Churkin, does that mean that they got agreement on some bits today and there is still more working? Or is there really – is it one of these Middle East deals where nothing’s agreed till everything’s agreed?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I would put it this way, and then if Administration Official wants to add, there were three or four key conceptual hurdles that had to be bridged. The ministers did the conceptual work, I would say, and now that has to be turned into text, and that’s the work that Ambassador Power and Ambassador Churkin are working through now.

QUESTION: So did you bridge those?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They had a very constructive meeting getting – as we said, getting through these conceptual issues.

QUESTION: Can you, if it is possible, I mean just be a little bit more – when you say “conceptual issue,” I realize you don’t want to say specifically what it is, but what kind of things does that mean? What is the – what’s the kind of thing that that – that you mean when you say “conceptual issue”?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We talked a little bit yesterday in this format about the end game. In the end game, what we need is a binding, enforceable, verifiable regime that stands the very, very best chance of implementing a framework agreement and removing the chemical stockpiles from Syria. So it’s very, very important that the texts – whether it’s the OPCW text or the UNSCR – support that goal and that we not have any ambiguity in the text about that goal, so that if there is not compliance with it we all agree on next steps. So it was that kind of a thing, to make sure that we don’t leave any loopholes, to make sure that we don’t leave any ambiguity or disagreement. At least in the U.S.-Russia context, just to remind, it still has to go to the wider group.

QUESTION: Okay. My last one, and then I’ll shut up and let other people go: They’re working on two texts?


QUESTION: So this is just a Security Council thing. The OPCW one is separate?



QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit about non – I know one of the things that’s important is the issue of compliance and how you would determine whether there was a violation. How do you envision determining compliance? Should that be enshrined in a UN Security Council resolution, and the UN Security Council makes a decision like that? Or is that an OPCW determination and then it gets kicked back to the Council?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Again, as Administration Official has said, these two texts are a matched set. They have to be congruent. They have to be mutually supporting. Without getting – putting --

QUESTION: When you say two texts, you mean an OPCW text --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: OPCW text and the UNSCR. And it is precisely these issues that we have to be sure we agree on – (a) what is expected of Syria, (b) how it’s going to happen, and (c) what we all pledge to do together if it is not followed through on.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, just one additional comment.

QUESTION: You know what I’m getting at, right?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’d urge you to go back and look at the framework on this, because --


QUESTION: It’s unclear whether in a violation – does the OPCW say you violated, or does the UN Security Council have to vote on whether a violation was made and set consequences? I know that you’re working out what those consequences are, how they should be --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Some of these are to be determined in the context of what we’re doing now. So we’re just going to – we’re not going to be able to be clearer on that until we’re finished.


QUESTION: Do we have – wait --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The – I mean, the framework sets out a series of milestones along the way to the destruction of the program.

QUESTION: The Geneva?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, the Geneva. And so there are a series of benchmarks there to gauge Syria’s actions. And those will be among the key elements that we, the Russians, the international community will be looking at as we judge the progress being made. I mean, the agreement reached was that this program is to be destroyed expeditiously, quickly, as soon as possible, recognizing the magnitude of the task. Now the agreement was also reached that in instances where this arrangement is not being met, the United States and Russia agreed to Chapter 7 measures in the face of noncompliance.

QUESTION: I understand, but I’m just – one thing I’m just confused about is who determines that they haven’t been met, the OCPW[i] or the Security Council? Or has that not been determined yet?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Again, we can’t really get into that level of detail without putting you in the negotiating room, which is not productive for us at the moment.

QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official], can you characterize how close you guys are to completing this task, whether there are more areas of agreement settled than there are disagreement?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Again, beyond saying that we thought it was constructive, we thought it was time well spent by these ministers, it still needs to be finalized, it needs to be looked at by others members of the Security Council. I think that’s as far as we should go now.

QUESTION: Just between the two sides, are you close to finishing? Are you almost there?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Again, I think I won’t go further than what I’ve already said.

QUESTION: Can I just follow on? Can you explain why is the UN investigating team going back to Syria? Is that part of these discussions and understanding that you’re trying to reach with the Russians, that this team should go back and look a little more deeply into that August 21st episode? And is the U.S. still insisting that this resolution be a Chapter 7 resolution? Is that still your position?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: With regard to the issue of folks going back in, that didn’t come up in this meeting. I don’t know if Administration Official wants to speak to the UN or the OPCW’s process with regard to that. And on your second question, I think we’re going to leave it where we left it, which is that we need a resolution that is clearly binding. We need a regime here that is clearly binding --

QUESTION: The resolution or --


QUESTION: Resolution?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- verifiable resolution. Yeah.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’ll just say on your first question, the statements today by the UN refer to this preexisting mission that is designed to investigate suspected use of chemical weapons. So it’s slightly separate from the larger question at hand here, actually eliminating the overall program.

QUESTION: Is this likely to be done this week?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Anne, you asked this question yesterday --


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- and I gave you this answer yesterday – (laughter) – which is that this stuff is hard. We all want it done as soon as we can.

QUESTION: Yeah. But presumably after today’s meeting, you have a better idea whether (inaudible), correct?


QUESTION: Can I just get you – and you’re not going to answer, so – can I just get you to clarify: Is the OPCW resolution done? I don’t understand – and I – it goes back to the last question I asked, really.


QUESTION: I don’t understand. When they were looking at text today, you said it was just the UN resolution. Is there – was that correct?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They were looking at UN text today.




QUESTION: So what is it that’s going – is there something going on at The Hague that --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There has been a related discussion in The Hague.

QUESTION: How close is that? Same goals?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think I would characterize it the same way. I wouldn’t – I would characterize it the same way, that we’ve had very constructive discussions. The goal with the Russians --

QUESTION: On the OPCW text?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Correct. And the goal has been, as stated in the framework, to reach decisions by both of these bodies as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: Is it not just as easy as taking – for the OPCW, taking the Geneva agreement and slapping OPCW letterhead on top of it? Is that --


QUESTION: What is that text supposed to do?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The framework is a framework. You have to then talk about how it will precisely be implemented, and there are all kinds of technical aspects there.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Correct. So we go back to --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) there will not be a Geneva agreement before there is agreement in New York?

MODERATOR: There will not be an OPCW agreement?

QUESTION: Yeah, sorry.



SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Again, watch this space. These two pieces are interrelated. They have to be a matched set for this to work.

QUESTION: Just a couple of things: Did they literally have their sleeves rolled up?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think they actually both had their jackets on, but they literally both had pencils in their hands. They literally both had text in front of them.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They were literally writing on their papers.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They were going back and forth with different formulations, ministers negotiating.

QUESTION: Was it done in English?



QUESTION: The Russian Deputy Prime Minister told --


QUESTION: -- parliament that the talks were not going well. Would you agree with that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I think he’s asleep right now --

QUESTION: I know, so --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- and so that must have been earlier in the day.

QUESTION: So things have changed?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Again, from our perspective, this was constructive. We made progress today.

MODERATOR: Did you have a question in the back?

QUESTION: So in the framework, U.S. and Russia agreed that Chapter 7 – on introducing Chapter 7 in the resolution. My question is: My understanding was that Russia was – would agree to Chapter 7 being included in the resolution. That could be a second one if there is proven noncompliance by Russia. So today, did you make progress on reaching agreement with Russia on this first resolution that’s intertwined with the OPCW doctrine that there would be Chapter 7 inclusion? And also, does that Chapter 7 inclusion include use of force, or is (inaudible) on that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Again, we’re not going to put you in the room in this negotiation, but what’s important here is that both ministers had the framework agreement on their table, and they had the draft UN Security Council resolution text. And the goal here was to ensure that the UNSCR is completely true to the spirit and the letter of what they agreed in Geneva.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

MODERATOR: Oh, I was just going to say we – there’s been a lot of confusion over when you should look at the framework and how the Chapter 7 language was specifically listed in there. Obviously, it’s a basis, but it’s not like you take that document and then all parties sign off, so – but the second thing is there’s been some confusion about the debate and whether it’s about use of force. It’s not about use of force. It’s about, as Senior State Department Official Number One here said, it’s about something that we wanted to be binding and forcible and verifiable. That’s our basis. So we’re not having a debate about that kind of term. It’s about the other way we described it.

QUESTION: Would you say there’s – what the President said in his speech today, if you remember that --


QUESTION: -- that it has to have consequences. Now you’re leaving the consequences --

MODERATOR: Not at all. There are a range of consequences that can be had.

QUESTION: Right, up to and including the use of force? That’s possible?

QUESTION: Implicit --

MODERATOR: As we said --

QUESTION: -- if you’re never taking force off the table.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The goal here is if this agreement is not complied with, there will be consequences.

QUESTION: Right, but it’s not going to say – your – it’s not your intention to have this document spell out exactly what those consequences all will be, right?


QUESTION: It would just say consequences.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- but just to put a finer point on this, the question in the public has been about whether this resolution would authorize the use of force. And as we’ve said repeatedly, that has not been part of this discussion, authorizing --

QUESTION: Right. But it would authorize consequences, correct?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would urge you to go back and read the framework, because that’s what we and the Russians agreed to.

QUESTION: That it would authorize consequences?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Anybody have the framework in front of them?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don’t. I gave my copy away.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. There’s a specific line that’s helpful that can shed --

QUESTION: Well, I just wanted – because it goes to Elise’s question. I mean, do you have to go back – if there is a violation, do you have to go back to the Security Council again to get an authorization for consequences?

QUESTION: No, or – yeah, to even determine that a violation was made?

QUESTION: Do you agree on the consequences, what those would be?

QUESTION: Oh, God. (Laughter.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Again, this is – all of you have seen this kind of thing before in other circumstances. You can’t at this stage predict or plan for every eventuality. You can set out an understanding both in the OPCW context and in the UN Security Council resolution context that if there are violations, we all know what needs to happen next. But you can’t sort of game in text like this any scenario that might arise. That would have to – but what you can do is say, okay, here – we will all proceed thusly if that happens.

QUESTION: No, respectful --

QUESTION: Actually, I have the agreement. It says that if there’s a violation, unauthorized transfer, Security Council should impose measures under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s the understanding that we are seeking to enshrine in the resolution.

QUESTION: But just respectfully, there are two very big ifs. If Syria – whatever he – Michael just said violates or does not implement the agreement, how do you determine if and what those measures should be? And you know very well that if you don’t spell it out in advance, you’ll be debating this with Russia in the UN Security Council for years because they’ll never – unless it’s spelled out in advance what those consequences are and how they would be determined, you know that you can’t leave it fudgy.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s exactly why it’s been a very serious process to get these two documents right, so that we minimize the chance of friction later among the Security Council members and among the OPCW states if we have a problem. I think we’ve done what we can do.

MODERATOR: Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.


[i] OPCW

PRN: 2013/1179