Background Briefing: Senior State Department Officials Preview Secretary Kerry's Travel to Canada

Special Briefing
Senior State Department Officials
En Route to Ottawa, Canada
October 28, 2014


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So I’ll just walk through the schedule very briefly and then [Senior State Department Official Two] is going to say a few things about goals for the trip and then we’ll do some questions if that’s okay. Cool?

So we’ll land, and first we’ll do a joint wreath-laying with the Secretary and Foreign Minister Baird at the National War Memorial. Obviously, this is the start to a day where a lot of this will be about offering condolences for the recent attacks. This is why we’re going right now, obviously, but I’m sure they’ll talk about a range of issues. Then we’ll meet – have a meeting with the foreign ministers, a bilateral meeting. The Secretary’s first bilateral in the U.S. was with Foreign Minister Baird, so even though he hasn’t been to Ottawa yet, they meet – they’ve met a few times. They speak on the phone fairly regularly.

Then we’ll do the press avail -- do the embassy meet-and-greet, like he does everywhere he goes. Then we will do a meeting with some senior members of parliament, and we’ll get you the full list of who’s going to be attending as soon as we have it. I don’t think we have it yet. Then he’ll meet with Prime Minister Harper, and then we will depart.

So that’s the schedule for the day, fairly straightforward. [Senior State Department Official Two], do you want to outline some goals?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. I mean, it’s probably fairly self-evident, but just briefly on the substance, the first order of business – obviously, given the news of the past week – is to demonstrate solidarity, show support, express condolences both to Canadian leaders and to the people of Canada after the two terrorist attacks that they have endured.

But this is also, as everyone knows, one of our broadest and deepest bilateral relationships that we have anywhere in the world. There really isn’t an issue of global importance on which Canada is not a key partner – from Ebola to ISIL to what’s going on in Russia and Ukraine to our incredible by-the-numbers economic and trading relationship. There really are a lot of substantive issues that we’re going to be digging into as well. As [Senior State Department Official One] said, this is the first time the Secretary’s had the opportunity to visit since he became Secretary of State, but we’ve met with Foreign Minister Baird dozens of times. He’s seen Prime Minister Harper. They speak on the phone quite regularly, and really, on every issue on which we’re focused, Canada is right there by our side, and so this is an opportunity to check in and deal with some of those issues as well.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: And this is all senior State Department officials, by the way. Sorry, I should have said that at the top.

QUESTION: On background (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: On background, yeah.

QUESTION: Are you on the record? Or --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No, we’ll all be on background here, just standard --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Airplane rules.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Airplane rules.

QUESTION: Can I ask --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Are there going to be any – is the United States concerned at all about perhaps a lack of security coordination with Canada as a result of these – after these killings, exchanges of information? Was that done properly in the U.S. view? And is there the possibility of any increased border security?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I’m going to answer but --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, go ahead.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: -- I’ll just speak generally, and then if you have something to add, feel free.

Look, all I would say about that is going back to what I said just at the top, which is – including on security issues and coordination around counterterrorism, it would be hard to find a closer partner with the United States than Canada, and that’s particularly true because we share a border several thousand miles long. You probably know off the top of your head how many miles we have a shared border.

QUESTION: Five thousand.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: How many?

QUESTION: Five thousand.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Five thousand miles --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Five thousand, there you go.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: -- of shared border, which requires, obviously, extensive coordination among various agencies of our government and theirs. With every one of our bilateral relationships, we are consistently and constantly looking for ways to deepen that level of cooperation, and I’m sure that’s the case with Canada as well. But in terms of concerns, I can’t think of any that are coming to mind.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: So I’d just point you to the Beyond the Border Initiative that President Obama launched in 2011 with Prime Minister Harper. It’s an all-encompassing plan on security. We have major initiatives on border streamlining and traveler – so the idea being that we increase security cooperation with the two countries at the same time that we streamline the border crossings for trusted travelers and trusted traders. And that’s what we’ve been doing since the Obama Administration started.

QUESTION: As a result, though, of last week, was there any or will there be any immediate short-term things that need to be done in terms of coordination? Or is just kind of status quo because Canada and the U.S. already cooperate so closely?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah, I mean, not that I’m aware of.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: We don’t have anything specific that --

QUESTION: No changes made in protocols or communication or anything?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Our security people talk every day --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: All the time, yeah.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: -- all day long, and we have a very, very strong relationship with them. I’m not aware of anything --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: And we’re both also focused, I mean, on the dual threat of homegrown terrorists who could be motivated by ISIL or someone online. Obviously, we’re both very focused on that and focused on combating it, but also foreign fighters who might go overseas and either try to return to Canada or the U.S. So we’re working on that challenge together, too. I mean, these are --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Which we’re already --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Which we were already, but obviously, with the growth of ISIL, that’s a pretty big challenge.

QUESTION: Can you tell us where the Secretary was when he first heard about last Wednesday’s attack at the National Memorial and what his reaction was?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We were with him. He was on the plane coming back.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: We spent most of last week on a plane, and I believe this was during one of our --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: It --

QUESTION: No, no, wait. We heard about it when we landed in --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: You did, but I think we heard about it --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: You did.

QUESTION: How did you guys find out, and what was his reaction?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: We got an update from our Ops Center and walked in and told him the news, and he obviously – first order of business, obviously to want to know as many facts as possible, and second was eventually to reach out to his Canadian counterparts and express his condolences once – you want to give people a decent interval to deal with the problem at hand before you make that phone call, but they – both the President and the Secretary --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: That day.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: -- reached out to their counterparts that day.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. And he spoke to the foreign minister that evening.

QUESTION: And obviously when we have the press avail he’ll make some comments, but if you can preview sort of – does – is he going to have a message for the Canadian people? What can we expect to hear?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I think, look, sort of, again, similar to what I said at the very beginning, I think the dominant message is going to be the American people have been through incidents like this before and we stand beside you. We know how difficult this is, but we also know how strong Canada is as a nation, the Canadian people are, and you have a close friend right across the border who is going to be moving forward in addressing these challenges together with you. It’s going to be very much a message of condolence and solidarity.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah.

QUESTION: I think that we actually might have been still in Berlin when that – it happened. We should check the timing of it.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I think you were on the plane.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I’m pretty sure --

QUESTION: All right. Check the time, what time anyway.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Not to spoil – be the fly in the ointment here, but the U.S. and Canada don’t have any disagreements on international issues? They’re going to vote with you guys on the Cuba resolution today at UNGA?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: There are no two nations that agree on 100 percent of issues.

QUESTION: Are you expecting the Canadians to switch their vote and support you?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: I think you have to ask the Canadians that question.

QUESTION: Well, since the vote will be happening once we get there, I’ll ask again at the press conference if you’re happy with how the Canadians voted in the General Assembly, okay. Because I think we know that they’re going to not vote with you.

Anyway, what about Keystone?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Is it going to come up or what is the question? What is your – is it going to come up? Look, it has tended to come up in Secretary Kerry’s meetings with his counterpart, Canadian counterparts. There also – there have also been meetings of late with Canadian officials in which it has not been raised, so I don't know for 100 percent certainty that it will come up, but I would expect there’s a decent likelihood. Our answer on that is fairly simple: There’s a process in place and we’re not going to speak to the – we’re not going to prejudge or get ahead of the outcome of that process.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: And there’s no timeline for the process to finish.

QUESTION: Yeah. So there’s nothing new in terms of the process?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: No. We’re not going to have anything new to say on Keystone today.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No.

QUESTION: Is there going to be anything new generally today, any announcements that we can expect? Or is it just --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I mean, no.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No.

QUESTION: There’s no even update on where we are in the process of the review?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: No. I mean, I think we’ve been pretty careful throughout the course of this to not get into the substance, get ahead of the process itself. And as [Senior State Department Official One] said, there’s no timeline, but when we have something to say, we’ll say it.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We’ll say it. Yeah.

QUESTION: All right. And then on Ebola --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- you guys are happy with the Canadian response?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. I mean, they’ve – it’s something like $66 million I think they’ve now --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. More than 65, yeah.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) it’s the same now.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: (Inaudible). And you know as well as like 1,000 doses of an experimental treatment and --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: They sent people --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: -- a couple million dollars in protective equipment --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: And they’ve really stepped up considerably. And the Secretary and other American officials have been calling around to many of our partners and allies and really asking people to go above and beyond because the challenge merits it. The United States has stepped up, and many of our partners, including Canada, have as well.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: And Canada is one of the leading donors.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. I mean, I would say there’s going to be – there’s going to have to be more that all of us will do --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Right, right.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: -- going forward. I don’t think any of us are under the impression that we’re at the end of this crisis or at the end of what countries are going to have to contribute. But we’re very happy with where Canada is.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah.

QUESTION: And on ISIS, is the Secretary going to be asking Canada to step up more on that front, or is he satisfied with what we’ve been contributing so far?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: No. I don't think we have specific asks related to that. They have contributed to – we talk about five lines of effort, at least, involved in the ISIS coalition. The Canadians I would say have contributed in almost every one of those --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: -- including on the military side, with a considerable contribution of F-18s, of trainers and advisors --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Surveillance.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: And so --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Humanitarian, nonlethal support.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Airdrops. Yeah.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Right. And so there really isn’t a specific ask for the Canadians on the ISIS front. They’ve – as they usually do, as almost always do in every one of our endeavors that we share, they’ve stepped up in a big way.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Anything else, guys? We good? Okay. Thanks, guys.