Background Briefing To Preview the Secretary's Travel to Brussels and Basel

Special Briefing
Senior Administration Officials
Joint Base Andrews
December 1, 2014

MODERATOR: (In progress) briefing to preview the Secretary’s trip to Brussels and Basel. So with that, we’ll – our senior State Department official will give a few opening remarks and will take a few questions.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Great. Thank you, [Moderator]. This is the regular December round of meetings that happens every year. The first is a NATO ministerial of foreign ministers to wrap up the season, and then the second is the OSCE, Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, annual ministerial which happens also in the first week of December every year.

(A phone rings.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)


Or as we affectionately call it, the “Europalooza” that ends the year. It’s also an opportunity, since we have all the ministers gathering in either Brussels or Basel or both, to do other multilateral meetings of small group meetings that the times demand. So what I thought I’d do is just quickly walk you through the schedule. The Secretary also will have a chance in bilateral meetings to get to know some of the new foreign minister counterparts either within the alliance or within the OSCE. He’ll have quite a number of bilaterals as well.

So we start the day tomorrow with a bilateral with his new Polish counterpart. He then goes to NATO headquarters for a signals check with the secretary-general – traditional before the NATO meetings begin. The first of the NATO meetings is the NATO-Ukraine commission at 11 o’clock. We expect that Ukrainian Foreign Minister Klimkin will participate by video conference rather than in person because in Ukraine tomorrow they will be continuing the process of government formation for which he’s required to be present. That will be an opportunity for allies to hear from Klimkin about the newly published governing coalition document that lays out the reforms that the Ukrainians intend to pursue which respond to the will of the voters in the recently concluded parliamentary elections.

It’ll also be an opportunity to talk to Foreign Minister Klimkin about the security situation. As you know, the Russian Federation continues to arm the separatists over the wide-open eastern border. We have not seen the kind of implementation of the Minsk peace agreements that we need to see, so there’ll be an opportunity for allies to talk to the Ukrainians about the political support and security support that they need in that regard.

We then go on to a number of additional pull-asides with other new foreign ministers – the Estonian foreign minister, the new Bulgarian foreign minister. Then we have the NAC session at 28. This is the allied-only session. Just to remind that this ministerial is the first opportunity for foreign ministers to gather since the heads of state meeting in Wales in September where allies committed to provide reinforcements on land, sea, and air to those allies who live on the eastern edge of the alliance in response to their concern about Russian aggression in Ukraine. It’s also the first opportunity to check in on how we’re doing on the various pledges we made to each other, including to be 28 allies for 28 in our reassurance to ensure that defense spending stays strong and increases over time to the NATO-recommended level of 2 percent of GDP; also to talk about how we are managing with our partners and our ongoing relationship with Russia.

So that’s what we expect that meeting to cover, an update on how allies are doing. The Secretary will obviously report on our own strong commitment to provide strong reassurance. We have some 700 U.S. military personnel serving in Poland and the three Baltic states. We have provided regular naval coverage in the Black Sea. We’ve obviously been flying missions with allies all along the eastern edge.

And also at the Wales summit, you’ll remember that NATO initiated two new vehicles. One is a commitment to build defense capacity of two partners as a start, and then – Jordan and Georgia; and then to keep that vehicle open for other partners like Iraq or others over time who might want it, building on the training that we’ve done in third countries over the last decade and a half, or two decades if you count Kosovo and Bosnia; and then also to enhance its partnership with the most capable of our partners, so countries like Finland, Sweden, Australia. So we’ll be checking up on all of that.

Other bilateral meetings – the Dutch foreign minister is also new. The Secretary will have a chance to meet with him. And then in the late afternoon will be the NATO 28 meeting with our ISAF partners, all of our partners who work with us in Afghanistan. There’ll be an opportunity to hear from senior members of the Afghan Government. And this is the moment when, as you know, we are finishing the ISAF mission and moving into the Resolute Support Mission. Allies pledge to continue – at Wales they pledged to continue training and advising the Afghans. Most of those pledges have been filled, but there’ll be a little bit of passing the hat. But in particular, it’ll be a chance to hear from the new Afghan Government about the security support and the security relationship that they want to have in an ongoing manner with NATO. And this is the bookend to the meeting that we’ll have in London later in the week, which is about economic support.

There’ll be a working dinner that evening of just the NATO 28 foreign ministers. We anticipate that this session will look primarily at our – the security challenges to NATO’s south, work together to prepare for the counter-ISIL coalition meeting the following day, talk about Libya, talk about Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and other challenges that we have to the south.

So that’s tomorrow. Then on Wednesday there will be a small meeting early in the morning with key allies and partners involved in Libya, and there’ll be a chance to hear from the UN Special Representative for Libya Bernadino Leon. We’ll give you more background on that when we have the right people here. And then there will be a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi, who is coming in to participate in the counter-ISIL coalition meeting which begins at 9 o’clock. That meeting you’ll also have a separate briefing on, some 60 allies and partners from Europe and the region joining. That is a meeting that is hosted by the United States. It’ll be at the NATO venue for convenience, but it is not a NATO meeting.

Then we go downtown --

QUESTION: Just very quickly: Do you think – like, you’re predicting people from 60 countries will come?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We’ll have representation from 60. Whether it’s all foreign ministers or whether some have other reps, I think we’re still counting.


QUESTION: They’re not all countries from the EU, UN? They’re --


QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. Some are international organizations as well. Yeah.

And then he’ll go downtown for a working lunch for new EU High Representative Mogherini. She has been a good partner of the Secretary’s, first as Italian foreign minister, but this will be their first – they’ve talked on the phone probably half a dozen times since she came in a couple of weeks ago, but this is their first time for a full-up sit-down. So they will be covering the waterfront of challenges and opportunities we work on with the EU, and they’ll also be preparing for their follow-on meeting, which is the U.S.-EU Energy Council. That meeting includes Secretary Kerry. It also includes Energy Secretary Moniz. On the EU side it’ll be High Rep Mogherini but also the new EU Vice Commissioner for Energy and Environment Sefcovic and other EU participants.

This meeting – you’ll recall last year – was the meeting where we committed that we needed to help Ukraine diversify energy supply and we began the process of working with Europe on reverse flow of gas to Ukraine. In this meeting, we anticipate looking further at projects we can support together to continue to energize, for want of a better word, the internal EU energy market interconnectors, LNG terminals, this kind of thing, and also continued work we need to do to support Ukraine as it seeks to diversify its supply and to strengthen energy efficiency inside the country. There’ll also be a discussion of climate and some of the technological things that we’re working on together to bring new technology to the market.

Then the Secretary will see all of you in the late afternoon, and then we fly to Basel. We’re going to Basel because the Swiss are this year’s host for the OSCE Ministerial, the annual gathering of 57 foreign ministers. As you know, the OSCE has had a renaissance of sorts this year in its activity, particularly in support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Not only has it provided the monitors who are bearing witness to the situation in Eastern Ukraine and around the country; it’s also provided human rights observers, it’s provided election observers. We have almost 500 people in Ukraine for the OSCE monitoring mission now. So it’ll be a chance to not only look at the various OSCE missions, whether it’s that one, the one in Georgia, the one in Transnistria, but also to compare notes on the future of the OSCE as we head towards the 40th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act, which is in 2015.

The Secretary will also see the new Georgian foreign minister there, and that’ll be a quick – he’ll make a statement at the OSCE Plenary Session which will be open to all of you. He will also have a meeting with civil society representatives. There is traditionally at this meeting a parallel gathering of civil society reps, whether they’re involved in free media, whether they’re involved in elections, whether they’re involved in human rights. And he’ll have a session with them on Thursday morning.

And that is our trip. And later in the afternoon, he’ll get on his plane and go to London for the Afghanistan events that afternoon, and we’ll talk to you about that separately.

MODERATOR: So we have to get on the plane soon, so maybe we can work through the questions you guys have.

QUESTION: In Afghanistan, are you going to be talking at all about troops levels or --

MODERATOR: You mean on Friday?

QUESTION: On – anytime this week, are you going to be getting troop levels from European nations for Afghanistan so we don’t have to have so many – maybe at the NATO meeting, I would guess, but --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So at the NATO meeting on Wednesday, that’s when we’ll look at whether all allies are meeting their commitments for trainers and advisors. We’re doing pretty well against the levels that were committed in Wales. There are still a few countries that need to come forward with concrete pledges, but some of these countries can’t get their forces there right at the beginning of the year when they’re needed, so as you know, the U.S. has provided a little bit of a bridge. So we’ll be looking at all of that.

QUESTION: What’s the – how many Russian troops are in Eastern Ukraine now as an approximation? And since they’re there and they’re not honoring the Minsk agreement, is there anything that this group might do in terms of providing defense assistance, weapons, defense capability, planning, help, or anything to the Ukrainians under the circumstances?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, the Ukrainians have --

QUESTION: Or is it just this (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The Ukrainian estimate of the number of Russians destabilizing Eastern Ukraine and other parts of the country is in the thousands. We certainly believe that there are any number of hundreds of Russians still inside Ukraine. There are going – there are continuing conversations with the EU about continuing to expand sanctions. You saw that they just named some of the separatists. We’ll be having those conversations about where we go next, particularly in response to the continued supply of heavy weapons that are coming across the border.

But a number of allies have joined us in providing relatively high-end nonlethal supplies to Ukraine, and we’re expecting a number of others to come forward with new proposals and offers at this ministerial. NATO is also running four trust funds at the Ukrainians’ request to help them with specific problems like command and control, demining, other things. So that’s a place where smaller allies who have less to contribute bilaterally can provide money or expertise to a collective pool.

QUESTION: Are these going to be made public, these pledges and promises?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think it’s up to individual nations whether they want to do that. Some nations have and some nations have been quieter.

QUESTION: This QRF that I think was announced yesterday or today with the NATO forces, how is that going to change the United States posture in the Baltics and around Ukraine, if it will at all? Do you anticipate the U.S. taking a larger role in that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think you’re talking about the high-readiness forces --


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- which were actually made public as a Wales commitment. They came out of the summit. Essentially, this involves shortening the time to move. It involves being able to surge forces quickly and have the command and control for them and the multilateral ability to bind them together that we might need in extremis, particularly along the eastern rim.

So the initiative was declared at Wales. The military and political experts have been working on the concept. We do expect that the United States will play a significant role in that. The expectation is that the capability will formally stand up later next year and that the details on the U.S. role will not come forward at this ministerial but when defense ministers meet in February. But the Secretary will certainly reassure allies tomorrow that we will play the role that only we can play, but he’ll also be seeking to ensure that all 28 allies play some role in high readiness.

QUESTION: How do you see --

QUESTION: Do you – go ahead.

QUESTION: How do you see the continued fall of oil prices affecting the Russian economy and Putin’s calculus, and will there be a discussion on what European states and the U.S. will do forward on that front?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I think there’s no question that a culmination of tough sanctions, Russian mismanagement of their own economy, and low oil prices, oil prices well below the budget projections that Russia builds its forecasts on, are having an intense effect on the Russian economy. You can see it in the billions that they’ve had to spend defending a ruble that continues to fall. You see it in the high rates of inflation inside the country, the projected – the declared inflation already 9, 10 percent, probably much higher in some regions. You can see it in the cost of food and commodities inside Russia. You can see it in the fact that Russians are not traveling anymore because it’s just gotten too expensive for them.

So I think we will continue to talk with NATO allies and with the EU about measures we can take to impose costs on Russia if the aggression, and particularly in eastern Ukraine, does not stop, but we’ll also reaffirm our willingness to roll back sanctions if Russia meets its commitments in Minsk, particularly closing that border, allowing Ukraine to have its sovereignty restored on the border, putting OSCE monitors out there, withdrawing its heavy equipment and its personnel from Ukraine, and releasing the many hostages that it and the separatists hold.

QUESTION: But you don’t see the oil prices kind of forcing Putin to back off or either do crazier things?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Look, the Russian economy is hurting.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The Russian people are hurting.

QUESTION: It’s 67 a barrel.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And the Kremlin is now choosing to spend money on adventures in Ukraine rather than on its own people whose daily life is suffering from a culmination of economic mismanagement and the adventures that the Kremlin has – is paying for. So that’s a question that Russians are going to have to answer. We’ve made clear that we would like to see Russia make a difference choice. If Russia makes a different choice there can be some sanctions relief. But if it doesn’t, the pressure is going to continue to rise.

QUESTION: Can you see any part of the NATO planning this week contributing to anything as of early next year? I mean, kind of forward planning on what the next steps are?


QUESTION: I mean, you’re not going to see immediate decisions, yeah.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I hope you can – you already see the decisions made in Wales being implemented. As I said, we’ve got 28 allies contributing to land, air, sea, and sometimes all three reassurance on the eastern edge. You – for the first time, we have young Americans, some 700 serving rotations in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia. We have ground forces and air forces from most of the allies taking turns providing concrete reassurance in the air, on land. So we’re going to have to continue that as long as the threat persists. We’ve also seen considerable testing by Russia of NATO airspace. You’ve seen – you all have reported on a lot of that, so I think we’ll probably have an exchange of views on what we’re seeing in terms of increased testing and posture, particularly with the air force and some dangerous behavior as well.

QUESTION: Do you expect NATO to take any action as a result of the announcement – I believe it was, again, today – about the Georgian-Russia – what was seen as an annexation of this Georgian province?


QUESTION: At least (inaudible) thought it was that.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I mean, we’ve condemned the action. We’ve said we won’t recognize it and most other allies have as well. I would guess that you’ll see the – hear the secretary-general speak on behalf of all allies that we consider it unacceptable, that we continue to stand by the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia. It’s interesting that when Abkhazia and South Ossetia declared their independence, Russia welcomed them as future sovereign states. Nobody – very few others did. And now they find themselves unable to sustain that and seeking a closer relationship with Russia because it’s not sustainable to be independent.

Our message to Georgians who live in Abkhazia and South Ossetia is that particularly now that the EU has offered Georgia association and has offered visa-free travel and has offered the opportunity to trade with Europe virtually tariff free, that the people of Abkhazia, the people of South Ossetia will have a far better future, a far richer and more prosperous and more democratic future if they throw their lot in with the government in Tbilisi.

QUESTION: What are the options to keep the pressure on if, despite the oil prices falling and the impact on the Russian economy, aggression continues? What more can you do to --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, we have considerable more – considerably more headroom in the sanctions that we can impose, if we have to. We don’t want to go in that direction, but we can do more if we need to. We are also, all of us, digging deeper on the security support that we’re providing to Ukraine.

QUESTION: I was in Kyiv this summer when the secretary-general of NATO came and called a press conference and said to Russia, “Step back from the brink; you’re right on the brink; you’re about to put your toe over it and I can’t tell you what will happen.” Here we are six months later and not only have they not stepped back from the brink, they’ve gone before. What kind of credibility does NATO have in this situation?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I do think that we have imposed a cost that’s biting, as I said. I do think that unfortunately, it’s the Russian people who are now starting to pay for the Kremlin’s policies and for the Kremlin’s adventures. That’s a decision that they’re going to have to make. But I also think that unfortunately, the choices that Moscow has made have brought about all the things that they said they didn’t want. They said they didn’t want a NATO that was active militarily right on its border. Well, that’s what they’ve got. They said that they didn’t want a Ukraine that was moving away from its orbit. Well, they have so pushed Ukraine away with this aggression that not only have we had a whole year of Ukrainians fighting on the streets, fighting with their peaceful protest, fighting with their votes to be more European, we also have public opinion in support of closer alliance with NATO going up, and that’s a direct result. We have public opinion of Russia in Ukraine going down. We have families split. That’s a direct result of Moscow’s policies.

So we think they’re making the wrong choice. We think there’s an opportunity to change course, but if they don’t choose to do it then the costs will rise.

QUESTION: Would you --

MODERATOR: Okay, we’ve got to wrap this up.

QUESTION: The point of the sanctions was, [Senior State Department Official], was not to punish the Russians but to deter the Russians from intervening in eastern Ukraine. Would you say that these sanctions have been successful in that regard?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I would say that I think that there were plenty of scenarios where this situation could have been even worse. I mean, nobody likes the situation that we’re in now, but elections did go forward, both presidential and parliamentary, in Ukraine. Russia did pay a price for supplying separatists with the weapons that put down the Malaysian airliner. There are many scenarios I could spin for you where Ukraine would be even further imperiled, I think, if there hadn’t been a united front between the U.S. and the EU in telling Russia that the costs would continue to rise.

MODERATOR: All right, we’ve got to get them on the plane. Thank you very much.