Background Briefing on the Secretary's Bilateral Meetings With French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and With Cypriot President Anastasiades and Foreign Minister Kasoulides

Special Briefing
Senior State Department Official
New York City
September 21, 2014

MODERATOR: Okay, so good evening. Thanks, everybody, for coming. My name is [Moderator]. And so we’re going to do a background session tonight, no embargo, attributed to a Senior Administration Official. So no names and titles, but of course, for clarity, anybody who doesn’t recognize [Senior State Department Official], [Senior State Department Official]. So I’ll turn it over to you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you, great to be back in New York here at the Super Bowl of diplomacy. Hope you all are enjoying yourselves. We’re barely at day one here. I wanted to just quickly fill you in on two meetings and a phone call by the Secretary today.

He met mid-afternoon with French Foreign Minister Fabius. He met in the early evening with Cypriot President Anastasiades and his team. And he made a phone call early this morning to Foreign Minister Lavrov.

So first on Foreign Minister Fabius, the bulk of the meeting was devoted to working together to build the coalition to counter ISIL. Obviously, the Secretary thanked Foreign Minister Fabius and France for all that it is already doing, particularly its decision to help with strikes in Iraq and all of those kinds of things. They talked about the work ahead this week to keep the coalition strong and together. They also talked about the Iran talks. The Secretary debriefed Foreign Minister Fabius on his meeting with Foreign Minister Zarif today, and they talked about the work that everybody is doing to accelerate the P5+1 process this week. And then finally, there was a little bit of a brief word about climate change and the French leadership of the COP next year.

With Cypriot President Anastasiades, the focus was very much on the renewed peace talk efforts and the appointment of a new UN special envoy to support those talks, Norwegian diplomat and former foreign and defense minister, Espen Barth Eide. The Secretary made clear how strongly the United States supports the work that is going on between the sides and with the facilitation of Espen Barth Eide, the Secretary made clear that he intends to be personally engaged and to help push the process forward as he can. He made clear that the subject of Cyprus and getting – and injecting new energy into the talks also came up on his recent trip to Ankara, and that we will remain very much engaged, including this week when there’ll be a number of other meetings both with the parties and with Espen Barth Eide.

Also in the meeting with President Anastasiades, the subject of Ukraine came up. Cyprus has been stalwart within the EU in continuing to support the costs that we’ve had to impose on Russia, and particularly the sanctions. They are paying a price economically. The Secretary obviously thanked Cyprus for its solidarity in that regard, and we talked about the absolute vital importance now of implementing – seeing the 12-point Minsk peace plan of September 5th fully implemented, and the work we can all do as members of the OSCE to support the role that they have in monitoring the implementation of the ceasefire.

Finally, with regard to the Secretary’s phone call early this morning to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, you will have seen a statement that Jen put out earlier today with regard to our concerns about Syria’s CW. That was one of the focuses of the call, and the second focus was to talk about how they can also broaden the conversation that we’ve started on whatever role Russia may choose to play in the ISIL coalition. And they will meet later in the week, obviously.

Why don’t I pause there.

MODERATOR: Okay, so we’ve got time for a couple of questions. So if I could just ask people to identify yourself and your outlet, anybody want to start off? Please.

QUESTION: Russian news agency (inaudible). Can I ask you a question on the talks on Iran? Russia said that they presented a new proposal, but no details. Can you – do you have any information on what the proposal is?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That sounds like a question for the Russian side, right? Not for us.

QUESTION: Yeah, but --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t have anything to share on that today.

QUESTION: All right.

MODERATOR: Okay. Others?

QUESTION: I’m Michael (inaudible) from (inaudible), Greece. You said that the Secretary is going to engage personally with Cyprus issue. Is he planning to go to Cyprus (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think if there is a moment in the talks where he can help push things forward, I think he’s prepared to do that. We haven’t made a concrete plan yet. As you know, Ambassador Eide has had a – former Minister Eide has had a couple of trips to the island. I think he’s now going to accelerate his effort to keep talks going between the sides through October, and then we will see whether a moment comes when he and the sides think a visit by the Secretary might be helpful.

MODERATOR: Okay. Yes, you, and then we’ll go this way.

QUESTION: Mizara Buta (ph) from (inaudible) television in Beirut. My question is regarding what happened today in Yemen. Was that on the agenda on the talks, not any Yemen? And also, how will the Saudi-Iranian rapprochement happening today reflect on the fight against ISIS?

MODERATOR: Okay. Well, I think we’re here talking about a couple of specific conversations that the Secretary had with the French foreign minister and with the Cypriot leadership, so I don’t think we have anything in particular on that.


QUESTION: Hi, Laurence Norman, (inaudible) Brussels with The Wall Street Journal. A couple of things. Did Ukraine not come up with Mr. Lavrov at all?

And secondly, as you know, the Europeans are allegedly reviewing the sanctions that they just passed a week or so ago and said they’ll do that by the end of September. Did that come up with either the Cypriots – who perhaps were a little less stalwart than you suggested – or with Mr. Fabius? And are you encouraging the Europeans to keep those sanctions in place?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: My understanding is that there was a very brief mention of Ukraine in the conversation with Foreign Minister Lavrov, with the expectation that when they see each other they’ll talk about things in some detail.

With regard to the Cypriots, as I said, the issue of Ukraine did come up. We are working intensively with the EU on the whole subject of Ukraine, and particularly now with all of our OSCE partners, to try to ensure that the OSCE is fully staffed and ready to take on the role that the Minsk agreement gives it in terms of monitoring the ceasefire, monitoring the withdrawal of foreign fighters and equipment, the securing of the borders. So there’s a lot of work to be done there. And as an EU player, as an OSCE player, Cyprus has a role to play in that as well.

With regard to the lifting or potential lifting of sanctions, I think the President was very clear when we were in Wales that when the 12 points of the Minsk plan are fully implemented, obviously there can be a conversation about easing this last round, but we are far from there yet.

MODERATOR: Okay. Elliot.

QUESTION: Yeah, sorry. What – Elliot Waldman with Tokyo Broadcasting System. Thank you. What is your desired course of action that you want Russia to take with regard to ISIL insofar as their capacity to contribute to the coalition? Can you be a little more specific about that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think we’ll have some more meetings here over the course of the week and we’ll have more to say about that as we get a sense of how – a deeper sense of how the Russians are perceiving what they might be able to offer. I think we’ve been pretty clear about the menu of ways to contribute – the President was in his speech and the Secretary has been in his testimony. So I think we’re actually looking to hear from the Russians what their intentions are.

QUESTION: And you expect to hear more about that in the meeting later in the week or --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Over the course of the week. As I said, there’ll be a meeting at the Secretary’s level, there’ll be meetings at lower levels, and we’ll see where we go.

MODERATOR: Okay. Michael, Allie, Lesley.

QUESTION: That was my question.

MODERATOR: Okay, okay. Allie.

QUESTION: I wanted to know if the subject of France doing airstrikes in Syria came up in the meeting with the French foreign minister and if there’s anything you might be able to tell us about what the nature of the conversation was about continued French airstrikes either in Iraq or Syria.

And also, in the discussion with Lavrov was there any talk about what the – what Ambassador Churkin said in the UN Security Council, the other meeting where he spoke about the fact that the international community should not take any actions without the assent of President Assad? Was there any move by Secretary Kerry to respond to those claims that the Russians brought up on that meeting?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t think the Churkin conversation came up this morning. And with regard to France, I think I gave you sort of a sense of the frame of the conversation. I don’t think I’m going to get into any further details here.

MODERATOR: Okay. Lesley and then Jo.

QUESTION: So I’d like to (inaudible) – NATO – a top NATO military commander yesterday came out saying that the truce – we have a ceasefire in name only. I was wondering what your thoughts were as far as that is going. I mean, is this going to hold?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, as you’ve seen in the news, the ceasefire throughout the zone has been fragile and there has been fighting at some of the key points on the edge of the zone, notably in Donetsk airport where the separatists have challenged for more territory and in that little pocket of space south of Donetsk as well. As you know, yesterday, there was another agreement among the Contact Group parties – notably Russia, Ukraine, the OSCE – to try to finalize the boundary of the special status area with the goal of stopping this skirmishing for further territory.

So we’ve seen further skirmishing today. The hope is that this will begin to take root. But what’s most important now is that we get monitors in there and these next steps of implementation begin to take hold, mainly that foreign fighters and equipment come out and the border gets secured.

QUESTION: Was there any discussion with Lavrov about additional sanctions or how these sanctions that were just passed are weighing? Was there anything that you can give us further on that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Again, today’s phone call was relatively brief. It was focused primarily on Syria. The expectation is that there’ll be more conversation about Ukraine later in the week.


QUESTION: Jo Biddle, AFP. On the Syria issue, I understand you don’t want to go ahead of things, but are you asking the Russians to take part in the coalition or are the Russians coming to you to say that they want to take part? Which way around is it going?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Again, we welcome all countries’ contributions in the coalition. I think we don’t have a sense yet of how Russia will relate to the work that we’re doing with partners around the world, and we’ll hear more about that, we hope, when they come to New York.

QUESTION: Is it --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think we’ll do one more --


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- and then we’ve pretty much exhausted this string, I think. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Hello, (inaudible) with Greek daily Kathimerini. On Cyprus, are the negotiations moving forward as quickly and resolutely as before given the recent statements of Turkish officials on the two states in question?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think we are cautiously optimistic that these first couple of rounds since the new UN negotiator was appointed are beginning to show promise, that the sides are showing very serious purpose in the way that they are engaging, that we are now beginning to see the start of real negotiations. It was certainly very clear in the meeting that the Secretary had that the Greek Cypriot side is committed and also quite committed to working with the new negotiator.

The Secretary made clear that in his visit to Ankara, he felt that the Turkish side is – that in Turkey, in Ankara – and you know they are a key supporting player for this – that they also want to see this issue resolved. We’ll have a chance to see the Turkish Cypriots later down the week and engage. But as a general matter, we are cautiously optimistic that we have new life in this process, and we want to be supportive of that.

Thanks, everybody.

MODERATOR: Okay. Thank you very much. Reminder: On background, Senior State Department Official.