Background Briefing on the NATO-Russia Meeting

Special Briefing
Senior State Department Officials
En Route to Chisinau, Moldova
December 5, 2013

MODERATOR: Hello, everyone. Welcome back to the plane. We’re on our way to Moldova. We are going to do a couple of things here. First, we’re going to provide a quick readout of the NATO-Russia meeting this morning, the bilateral meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov, the ISAF meeting this morning, and the meeting with EU High Representative Ashton. And then I’ll give you a little more detail – it’s still being worked through, but on our trip to Jerusalem and Ramallah Thursday and Friday.

So with that, let me turn it over to Senior State Department Official Number One.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thank you. I love this system. I feel like I’m in a lounge somewhere, I’m a lounge singer. You don’t want to hear me sing. It’s ugly. All right.

The Secretary started the day in the NATO-Russia Council Meeting today. This is all NATO allies plus Russia sitting in 29-country format. They covered the full agenda of issues on which NATO and Russia work together, but in particular, most speakers talked about the importance of the deal to – agreement to remove Syria’s chemical weapons and how that is progressing, and the need to finish with that on time. There was discussion of the P5+1 first-stage agreement with Iran and the need to move on to a comprehensive agreement.

On Afghanistan, the NATO-Russia Council, as you know, plays a very important role in terms of keeping the northern distribution network open, moving equipment and materiel and support in and out of Afghanistan. And they also do a number of other things, including helicopter support, counternarcotics, in Afghanistan.

There was also a discussion of Ukraine initiated by Foreign Minister Lavrov reacting to the NATO public statement yesterday of support for the wishes for the Ukrainian people, asking whether NATO was planning to put itself in Ukraine. And all allies made clear that this was firmly about supporting the aspirations of the Ukrainian people for a European future, that there was no military operation planned in Ukraine, and it was provocative to discuss that.

They also talked in NATO-Russia Council format about some of the counterterrorism work that we do.

The Secretary then had a bilateral with EU High Representative Ashton. As you know, that is a very close and frequent relationship. They talked about implementation of the first phase of the Iran agreement and the need to prepare well for the comprehensive stage of negotiations. On Syria, they talked about preparations for Geneva II and they also continued the discussion we’ve been having with all of our close partners about the dire humanitarian situation in Syria, the need to put more pressure on the regime to allow humanitarian aid in. And they talked about the way forward on Ukraine. High Representative Ashton’s deputy, Helga Schmid, will represent the EU at the OSCE ministerial in Kyiv tomorrow. Assistant Secretary of State Nuland will represent the U.S. And we were asked to work together to help the Ukrainian Government and the opposition work on a roadmap back to Europe and to the IMF.

They then did – there was then the bilateral meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov, which ran for about 30 minutes. First subject was Syria, particularly the need – the preparations for Geneva II, all of the work that’s going on with the various neighbors and partners to prepare the ground for Geneva II, and then a very – another strong discussion with the Secretary urging Foreign Minister Lavrov to increase the pressure on the Assad regime to allow full humanitarian access for humanitarian aid and real concern about starvation being used as a weapon of war, and about the rise of extremism on both sides making it a much tougher environment in Syria. They also reviewed the bidding on Iran in the aftermath of the phase-one agreement, the need to implement it, and then the need to move on to phase two.

There was a discussion both in the NATO-Russia Council and then again bilaterally of missile defense. On missile defense in the NATO-Russia Council, all allies reiterated NATO’s longstanding point that it would like to have a cooperative relationship with Russia on missile defense, and urged Russia to be more forthcoming. Foreign Minister Lavrov used that opportunity to make a new point that he’s been making that in the context of increasing progress with Iran, missile defense is no longer needed – a point that all allies, including the Secretary, strongly disputed. And in the bilateral discussion, the Secretary went over again the fact it is not only about Iran’s nuclear program, it’s also about its ballistic missile program, which allows it to deliver other forms of WMD as well, and that is concerning and requiring of strong missile defense protections.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Hi. Second – thank you – NATO session today was on ISAF, and the main event here really was a presentation from two Afghan officials – one Mr. Osmani, who is the acting foreign minister, and the other Mr. Doudzai who’s the interior minister. And these were basically a status report on the security situation in Afghanistan and the progress of the ANSF troops. General Dunford, the ISAF commander, actually preceded them by giving his take on where things stood with the ANSF, very much a consistent message from all of those speakers – significant progress over the past year and since the last NAC meeting, which I think was in April, still a ways to go to meet the objectives for the end of 2014, but a general sense from both the Afghan officials and General Dunford that things were moving in the right direction and on track.

A lot of discussion about the BSA and the timing of a signature. And as expected and as I think we signaled yesterday, all of the partner and allied interventions – the allied interventions that I heard focused strongly on the need for the BSA to be signed as soon as possible, the Secretary’s intervention included. And Secretary General Rasmussen also stressed that point in his opening remarks. The Afghan officials did not give any impression that that was unrealistic or unlikely, and in fact were fairly positive about the prospects for a BSA, but without going into any specifics about when a signature might occur. So – but the focus really was less on the BSA and the timing than it was on a kind of general update about ANSF progress and the security situation in the country more broadly.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Okay. And onward to our stops after Moldova. So we will be headed later this evening to Tel Aviv, where we will arrive and stay in Jerusalem. Tomorrow, the Secretary will have a meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu and his team in the morning. He’ll have a meeting with President Abbas in the afternoon. We’re still finalizing the schedule for tomorrow evening and Friday morning, and we’ll provide you details of that as soon as they are confirmed.

As you all know, the Secretary made clear before Thanksgiving that he planned to return to the region following Thanksgiving to both provide an update on the Iran negotiations and continue to have discussions on the direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. He’s always said that he would visit the region when he felt he could personally help move the process forward, so that is the goal of this trip. As you know, he will certainly be providing an update and a briefing on – continue the discussion, I should say -- on the P5+1 negotiations, the first step that was agreed to, as well as the path forward to a comprehensive agreement.

It’s important to note here that while there certainly is a disagreement over tactics, as we all know, the Israelis had supported an effort to have a comprehensive agreement and the first step – we felt a first step was the only viable path forward. We are now negotiating comprehensive steps. So this is what he is hopeful to speak with Prime Minister Netanyahu and his team about.

As well as that issue, they’ll also be talking about, of course, the direct negotiations. There will be – Secretary Kerry and General Allen will be providing an update on their evaluation of Israel’s security as part of the meeting tomorrow morning. The Secretary is devoting, certainly, a fair amount of time to this effort, this part of the process at this point. He’s working closely with General Allen and his team on that. They are also working with a team, of course, from the Pentagon, as you’re all well aware.

And the effort here is to provide an update on where things stand. There will be a – this is a cooperative process, so there will be a continued back and forth. As you all know, we’re in about month four of the – around month – it might be the beginning of month five of this negotiation and this nine-month timeframe. And this, of course, is an important component of what the Secretary feels is important in a final agreement.

So with that, we’ll take your questions.

QUESTION: One on the Israel visit, and then also to ask – I’m sorry, I don’t know you.


QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official Two]. Okay. [Senior State Department Official Two], a question about ISAF. So on Israel first, if this is an update, how long then has a proposal to put some international troops along the Jordanian border been in the mix? That’s been reported and also verified by some other people. Can you discuss that? If it’s not a plan, then it’s been something that’s in the works for a while? I don’t understand.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Well, as is the case with every other detail about the direct negotiations, I’m not going to and we’re not going to get into the specifics of what’s being discussed. There are a lot of ideas that are out there that are being published. I would caution you to jump to the conclusion that they are final, in any final plan or in any final agreement, because this is an ongoing discussion, an ongoing negotiation. So it’s natural, given that we’re about four months in – so less than halfway through the nine-month timeframe – that we’d be at a point where we’d be providing an update. But we expect the discussion on security issues will continue long past the briefing that they will be providing tomorrow.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I would just add there’s – nothing along those lines has been verified by anybody in an official capacity or on the record, certainly. And second, I just don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that this update is the first engagement between General Allen and Israeli officials. He’s been working very closely, obviously, with Israeli counterparts in a military capacity over the past several months. But this will be a higher-level update than he’s done previously.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

QUESTION: Yeah, I wasn’t speaking – that doesn’t surprise me. I’m more wondering about the specifics about maybe putting international troops – oh, microphone – yeah, sorry – no, I mean, I was more interested – I had assumed that General Allen had met with Israeli officials, but – so that doesn’t surprise me. I was more interested in the idea that international troops might be put on the Jordanian border.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: All I was saying is you said that idea had been quote-un-quote “verified.” I don’t know that that’s been verified in any official – I’m quite sure it hasn’t, actually, so --

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

QUESTION: Yeah. I do have another question unless you want to stay on Israel.

QUESTION: Staying on Israel, (inaudible) --


QUESTION: Actually, I do have a question for --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Why don’t we do – yes, why don’t we do State Department Official Number One’s business first.

QUESTION: Okay. Yeah, and as I think about it, you might be able to answer this better. Since Lavrov said in his presser – or he mentioned that whatever BSA would need to be in concordance with UN Security resolution – Security Council resolution, what is he talking about? What Security Council resolution?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I think that’s a garble. I didn’t actually hear his press conference, but one thing that he’s been saying is that the current ISAF mission is under a specific UN – is mandated by a specific UN Security Council resolution. So when we move to train, advise, and equip, it’s a different mission, and the Russians think it ought to have a new UNSCR.

Is there anything else for me? Otherwise, I’m going to go.

QUESTION: You mentioned they talked in the NATO meeting and between Secretary Kerry and Lavrov about the – Syria’s chemical weapons. I should use my radio voice. (Laughter.) Can you give us more specifics about what exactly they discussed? Did they discuss technicalities, details about how to get this stuff out there and who was going to help do it?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: In the NATO-Russia Council, the Russian side confirmed to the room – because not everybody on the NATO side is involved – that it has made a commitment to support the Syrians in the preparation of the removal of the chemicals from Syrian soil and their loading onto ships. That’s what the Russian piece of this is, and then there are a number of other countries, some of whom were in the room, who will work on the other pieces of that, which I don’t think we’ve been public with because we’re still working on them. So it was just a reconfirmation that Russia understands it has a role to play here. Have we confirmed the – yeah --


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. Okay. So as you know, the plan is to get the staff onto a ship for U.S. shipboard destruction. So the Russian job is to work with the Syrians to get it at sea, and then it needs to be taken over. So there was some discussion of that.

In the bilateral meeting, I would say simply that at a foreign ministerial level of generality, because we have a big technical team working on all the details here, Foreign Minister Lavrov just confirmed their piece of it, and Secretary Kerry confirmed our piece of it with an understanding that there are some bits in the middle that still are being worked out, but we hope to have them worked out in coming weeks.

QUESTION: Does that include the Russians also asking the Syrians to secure routes to get it out (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: The Russians have the responsibility for working with the Syrians to ensure that all of the stuff can get out safely to the port for loading.

QUESTION: Can we go to – back to Afghanistan-ISAF meeting?


QUESTION: Yeah. So Official Two, I guess this is to you. So when you say that the Afghan officials seemed receptive or even positive, what gave you that impression? What did they say or do that led you to believe they might be willing to move this thing along even if Karzai isn’t? And is that even possible? Can other Afghan officials do something that he can’t?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I just missed the last part of your question, sorry, (inaudible).

So on the first part of your question, I think both Afghan officials who spoke indicated a desire to have the BSA concluded soon, and gave no indication that there was any reason to believe that that wouldn’t be the case. But as I said, they also did not offer any specific timetable or say in a concrete way that this was going to happen imminently. I’ll let [Senior State Department Official Three] answer the second question because she’s answered it a few times.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: So on the question of whether another official could sign it, I think is your question – technically, another official could sign it. However, it would have to be designated – they would have to be designated by President Karzai.

So there’s a question as to whether that would be possible. That’s not a route that we are actively pursuing at this point.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I guess I’d only add that the sentiments voiced by the Afghan officials in the room was very much consistent not only with what was expressed by the Loya Jirga itself as a kind of representative body of the Afghan people, but by a wide range of Afghan officials since then, both on the record and in private settings.

QUESTION: I have a Middle East question. I don’t know if you want to – okay. For number three: You said that General Allen is going to provide an update on the security situation to Prime Minister Netanyahu. Is this the first time he’s presented an update to the Israeli prime minister? And what you call an update – is it the first time? The question is: Is this the first time he’s done this? Because you said it’s being done at a higher level.

And while you call it an update of the security situation, isn’t it more accurate to say its ideas and planning for how to secure the West Bank in the context of a comprehensive peace agreement? And is he not, in fact, presenting American ideas about how this security plan might work on the West Bank?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: So on the first part, we will double-check for you, but I am confident that it’s the first time that he’s – that General Allen has briefed the prime minister on the discussions on security. But the Secretary and the prime minister have had extensive discussions on security in the context of the negotiations. And all of those discussions on the Secretary’s side were informed by the work of General Allen and the Secretary’s close coordination with General Allen. So this will not be a lot of brand new stuff for the prime minister to hear, but it’ll be the first time he’s gotten the briefing directly from General Allen. But we’ll double-check that to make sure.

And in terms of the content of what they’ll be discussing, I don’t think we meant to give the impression that this was an update on the security situation in Israel. What it is is a discussion of – we have said all along that Israel’s security and meeting Israel’s security needs would be of paramount importance in the context of negotiations that cover not only that topic, but a broad range of concerns on both sides. And General Allen’s mission essentially is to generate ideas and understanding to sort of – to accomplish that part of the negotiations. And so this will be an update on his work in – which has been done in close coordination with Israeli defense officials as well.


QUESTION: Can I just verify --


QUESTION: I mean, the Israeli media is reporting this morning rather prominently that General Allen’s going to present a plan of how to secure the West Bank in the context of a peace agreement that’s the product, as you point out, of these kinds of consultations between the two sides. Are you denying that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: I think I read the same story you read. They are – as we’re saying, he is providing an update, and then it’s going to be – include many details and specifics. We weren’t implying something otherwise. What the story seemed to imply was that this was a plan and there was going to be an up-or-down vote on the plan. This is obviously an ongoing discussion about Israel’s security. We want – the goal here, as [Senior State Department Official Two] referenced, is for Israel to be more secure, not less, at the end of this. So it’s an ongoing discussion. It’s not a present a plan and everybody in the room raises their hand, they support it.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: One second. I just wanted to add also that the story also seemed to give the impression that General Allen’s work was finished, and now his finished product was going to be presented to the Israeli prime minister. That’s not the case. I mean, this is an ongoing process. He will be presenting a piece of what will be a larger whole, and they’ll be discussing a part of his work.

QUESTION: Just on that, we understand that it’s not an up-or-down vote, but that’s parsing, kind of, what Michael was saying in terms of, it would be accurate to say that he is presenting as part of these ongoing consultations that are back-and-forth some ideas on how to meet Israel’s needs, particularly securing the West Bank, which is one of the – their stated concerns. I mean, is that --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Which is just what we’ve said, that – yeah. I mean, I think --

QUESTION: I have a follow-up to that.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: -- the way that [Senior State Department Official Two] said it, I think, is the best way to explain what we are trying to clarify on the story, which is that this doesn’t represent the conclusion of his work; it’s ongoing.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: I know, but the story implied that, so that’s an important point. So that’s what we were trying to convey.

QUESTION: But everything else Elise said --

QUESTION: Wait, can I --

QUESTION: -- is right, correct? I mean --


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: (Inaudible) hear you from here.

QUESTION: I was just – I mean, to follow up, everything else Elise said is correct in terms of the content, not necessarily the status of the negotiations?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: (Inaudible) exactly what you said, but more or less, yeah.

QUESTION: Why are you getting annoyed? (Laughter.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Well, I’m not. I just couldn’t remember your exact (inaudible) --

QUESTION: No, I just said – I mean, I was actually piggy-backing on what Michael said, was that we understand that this is not the final plan, up-or-down vote, whatever. But the idea that he – or the notion that he is presenting some ideas as part of these ongoing consultations on how to secure Israel and the West Bank --


QUESTION: Okay. Another issue is that as this ongoing negotiations with Iran were happening, particularly in October, the prime minister was trying to make a link between Iran and the peace process, saying that if he felt that this deal did not address the growing threat by a nuclear Iran, that he would not take so kindly upon moving forward on the peace process.


QUESTION: He was tweeting it. He was tweeting it out. I mean, I don’t remember his exact language, but --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: So on the specific – how it’s impacted, it has not impacted, in our view, the discussions. It has not impacted the process. There are other aspects that have certainly impacted the process over the past couple of weeks that we’re all well aware of, right. But this particular piece, the discussions on Iran – in the Secretary’s experience and our experience – have not. It is a separate discussion, and certainly one that will be an important part of the Secretary’s visit, and we’re well aware there have been disagreements and we’ll have an ongoing robust dialogue on it.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. I guess I’d only add, in our view, these are separate processes that are not directly related, but that obviously – there is some interplay between the two issues, but that both – making progress on both is strongly in Israel’s broader national interest and its security interests specifically, so --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: I had one other thing. Sorry. I just want to add just one other security thing is that there also has been a separate team evaluating Palestinian security, so just so you’re all aware. I wanted to make sure you knew that.

And one other proactive piece: I think we announced this, but the Secretary’s also speaking at the Saban Forum on Saturday after this trip, so – where he’ll obviously be talking about direct negotiations, issues in the Middle East as well, so just so you’re aware.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) security (inaudible) for Palestinians (inaudible).

QUESTION: Yes, can I ask a new question? A follow-up on the BSA question. State Department Official Number One was saying that Lavrov has raised this issue that the post-2014 force would need to have another UN Security Council resolution. Do you have a view on whether NATO – anyone in Afghanistan in 2015 would need another UN resolution?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I don’t know the answer. I don’t know (inaudible).

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: We didn’t actually see what he said, so --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. I mean, I would want clarification as to what exactly he was referring to before we answer. No, we’re focused very much on a BSA and a NATO Status of Forces Agreement after that, so --

QUESTION: There was some report that – is it Dobbins was headed back to Kabul? I think he was in Islamabad to rework parts of the BSA. Is that true?


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Well, I don’t know the answer to that, but what I would say on reworking the BSA, I mean, I think the Secretary’s been quite clear that he considered the BSA to be a – effectively a closed document when we left Kabul on our trip. Now, there were some technical modifications and tweaks that were made thereafter, but nothing sort of major and substantive changed, and that was the version that was presented to the Loya Jirga, and now it’s been approved by the Loya Jirga. So at this point to go back in and rework the document, from our perspective, I think, yeah, would very much not be our desire or intention.

PRN: 2013/T19-09