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Diplomacy in Action

Background Briefing by Senior State Department Official on Secretary Clinton's Upcoming Trip to Europe

Washington, DC
October 8, 2009


QUESTION: Have the Swiss actually made an announcement that this thing is going to happen?


QUESTION: Or the Turks or the Armenian – I mean, it might have happened in the last couple hours, but it hadn’t happened yet.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, the Swiss have not announced it. They’ve organized it. They’ve invited the parties. The parties have all agreed to come. The Turks have announced it and spoken publicly about it, as you know, and they did so a while ago. But the Swiss have not, and it’s my understanding, don’t plan to make a formal announcement. But they have invited the parties, and the parties, including Secretary Clinton, have agreed to come.

QUESTION: Okay. So it’s on, a hundred percent?


QUESTION: Will they actually sign the agreements?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s what they will do at the signing, yeah.

QUESTION: You’re sure about that?


QUESTION: I mean, there isn’t going to be some last-minute pitch?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I am confident – yes, the parties have agreed to attend the signing.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And at that signing, they will sign the two protocols that they had agreed to previously.


QUESTION: And what would you say was the key to reaching that decision? The two parties, the two parties coming together?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Their mutual interest in doing so. I think both governments – we discussed before that it’s difficult. There’s opposition both in Turkey and in Armenia to doing so. But both governments realize that ultimately, it’s in their interest to have normalized relations and an open border. And after years of tensions and the economic isolation, particularly of Armenia, I think there’s a great desire on both sides to move forward.

And they previously agreed to – remember the statement of April 22nd when they first announced that they had reached agreements in principle on these things, they had spent the intervening period consulting internally. And on August 31st, you’ll remember they issued a statement saying they’re going to take six weeks – that was in the initial agreement – six weeks of domestic political consultations, after which they would sign and submit to parliaments.

Well, now we’re at the end of that six-week period from August 31st. And on the 10th in Zurich, that’s what they’re going to do. They’re going to sign and then they’re going to submit it to parliaments.

QUESTION: And the two are in diplomatic relations on the border, or is that just --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Protocol normalization of relations and protocol on establishing diplomatic ties.

QUESTION: Can you explain why the Secretary is actually attending an event that she doesn’t have that much to do with? I mean, bringing them that close together, why do that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Because, as I think I alluded to, we have long supported this process, and she’s going to demonstrate and underscore our support for the process. We have encouraged the parties to move forward and been in constant touch with them, because it is our profound belief that this is a historic opportunity for both countries. So she is going to demonstrate that support, to stand with them and show that we support it, consult with them on next steps forward.

And I should add that she is not the only international dignitary invited here. The Russian foreign minister has been invited and plans to attend, the French foreign minister invited and plans to attend, and the EU Foreign Policy Chief Solana, and Council of Europe presidency, which is the Slovenian presidency, Foreign Minister Zbogar. So those will be the parties in addition to the Turks and the Armenians who will attend the ceremony demonstrating our collective support for this normalization process.

QUESTION: Is she going to talk about anything that she’s done personally? I know she met with him on the sidelines of the UN, but has she made any calls or just (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: She’s made lots of calls to Turkey and to Armenia, to the foreign ministers, to the presidents, and has been consistently engaged on the issue to try to help our friends move forward. And she’s met – in addition to the phone calls, she’s met a number of times with the foreign ministers and leaders of both countries, starting at the very beginning of the Administration.

QUESTION: This might be tangential, but with the Russian, French, and EU there, will she pull them aside for an Iran talk, given that they’re about to meet the technical experts right after that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: She’ll certainly have an opportunity to engage with them. There aren’t going to be formal Iran talks with them, but of course, it will be a useful opportunity to talk about the issues of the day, including Iran.

QUESTION: Just to clarify, so these protocols start the process of normalization?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, once they’re ratified, they would complete the process of normalization. When – upon ratification, the two countries would have normal ties and diplomatic relations.

QUESTION: No, the signing, I mean. So there’s going to be a period now of some time? And so just – the phrasing of what’s actually – what actually it means?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right. Well, as in our system, they’ll be signed and then submitted to parliaments. Parliaments would have to vote and pass them, but upon passage, they would then take place, which would mean that the two countries would have diplomatic relations and a normal relationship.

QUESTION: So they’re moving forward towards normalization if the events --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. As with any such agreement, first the governments have to agree and then they have to sign it and then the parliaments have to agree.

QUESTION: No, but --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So yeah, it’s a step – nobody is saying this is the final stage in the normalization of relations. There is more work to do.

QUESTION: The governments agreed to – well, on Monday or Saturday, will have agreed to normalize ties? That’s --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s right. When they sign the protocols, the governments will have agreed to do so.




SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- that won’t exist until the parliaments have ratified, and that’s obviously going to be important.

QUESTION: Moving to a different topic, can you give us a flavor of to what extent the START treaty will be a topic of discussion in Moscow, and will this be helping progress on that? What role will she play in that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It will certainly be an important topic of discussion. Again, as you know, the presidents – well, back in April when President Obama and President Medvedev met, they tasked their negotiators to pursue this follow-on treaty on reducing offensive nuclear weapons. And everyone knew at the time that START expires on December 5th of this year, and so the deadline was sort of obvious.

The negotiators have been working diligently to move the process ahead, but we will be – or we are two months from that deadline. So this will be an opportunity for the Secretary with her counterpart in Moscow to review where we are on START and discuss some of the remaining issues to try to meet that deadline, which both sides are committed to meeting, but it’s difficult; there’s a lot of work that has to be done in a short amount of time.

QUESTION: So where are we right now?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We’re making good progress. And as I say, I think both sides are committed to getting it done. But just as a technical matter, there’s – there are a lot of details that have to be sorted out for the follow-on treaty to be finished by December 5th.

QUESTION: Do you think you will get it done by December 5th?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We are hopeful about getting it done. I don’t think anyone would make predictions on something that’s difficult to do. But I think both sides are determined to succeed.

QUESTION: Just to get a little concrete, what kind of sticking points are there, whether they’re technical or more political?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s always a combination of both. I mean, you saw in the framework agreed by the presidents at the summit in July that they gave – each side gave a range on delivery vehicles and on warheads. So that’s one thing that has to be finalized is at which side of each range are you going to end up, and that’s what a negotiation is, and that’s political and technical. And then you have details on how the verification mechanisms will work and issues like that. But at a minimum, we have to agree on ranges for warheads and delivery vehicles.

QUESTION: I’m sorry --

QUESTION: Does the Secretary bring --


QUESTION: Are you picking --

MR. KELLY: I can do that. Mary Beth, go ahead.

QUESTION: Mary Beth Sheridan from The Washington Post. We haven’t met. Is there some component of the meetings in Moscow that involve missile defense talks? There seems to have been some mention of that in some stories I’ve read.

QUESTION: Actually, that was my question, too. And whether the Secretary is bringing any new proposals about Russian participation in the ABM architecture, new architecture?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. Well, I’ll just sort of answer both of those at once. There is not any sort of separate session set up for missile defense talks, but I’m sure that she will discuss this with her counterparts. It’s an important issue. This will be the first time she’s seen Foreign Minister Lavrov since we announced our approach on missile defense, and I’m sure that they will have the opportunity to talk about it.

QUESTION: No, they met in New York.

QUESTION: Well, they saw each other at the UN.



QUESTION: Well, didn’t they? I mean --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Is the – I mean, the presidents met and the foreign ministers were there. But this is a chance to talk about all of the issues, and missile defense will no doubt come up. Under Secretary Tauscher will, prior to the Secretary’s arrival, be meeting her counterparts, and again, that will also be an opportunity to discuss this issue.

QUESTION: In Moscow?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. We have long said that we’re interested in cooperating with Russia on missile defense and have talked about the types of things that might be possible and have waited for Russian reactions and still are waiting, and we are interested. So we’ll see if they have anything new to say about how they think we might be able to work together on missile defense.

QUESTION: So – I’m sorry, just to clarify, because my understanding before had been that there was discussion about this radar and sharing – some kind of use of it or whatever. That doesn’t seem to be part of the new U.S. plan in terms of the sort of more short and medium-range missile threat and everything else. So, I mean, there’s obviously part of START that’s going to mention missile defense somehow, so they have to work that out, right?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Not really. I mean, START is about reducing offensive weapons. The Russians always want to talk about defensive weapons as part of it, but that’s not our view.

QUESTION: Yeah. Right. But there’s going to be some mention of it in START?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. There’s – in most arms control treaties, and probably this one as well, there will be a reference.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The framework that the President signed in July had one sentence talking about the negotiators will take into account the relationship between offensive and defensive weapons.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s in SALT, that’s in START, and it’s in the framework for this treaty as well.

QUESTION: Yeah. That’s what I meant.


QUESTION: Yeah, okay.


QUESTION: So if the radar plan is not really on the table anymore, what – sort of what options might, or what – you know, what’s the thought about what they might do together?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s not off the table either. In the plan that we presented, that the President decided and we announced, there is no reference to specific Russian cooperation because it’s not part of the plan. We have a plan that doesn’t require it. But we have always said, before this and now, that we look forward to speaking to the Russians about how they might be involved. We think they face missile threats as we do, and there are various ways we can cooperate on that. So it’s not part of the plan, but it’s not off the table either.

QUESTION: Can I just clarify, because General Cartwright has said that they would like to put a radar site in the Caucuses and that would involve, obviously, dealing with the Russians on that. Is that not still on –

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It wouldn’t necessarily --

QUESTION: Not necessarily for Armenia. (Laughter.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It wouldn’t necessarily --

QUESTION: I guess there are other Caucasus countries that --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. That’s not a reference to Russia.

QUESTION: Okay. Because there – obviously, in the previous administration, there were talks about using Russian sites –


QUESTION: So it could be Russian sites, it could be other; it’s not necessarily Russia?



QUESTION: But would it be correct to assume that that’s – this is not – that’s not a big focus of what the Secretary is going to be doing?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That would be correct to assume. With an agenda that includes START and the bilateral presidential commission and Iran and Afghanistan and European security, there’s plenty to talk about. I mean, this is not a missile defense trip, but it’s an important issue. Our desire to cooperate remains on the table, and it’ll probably come up.

QUESTION: Is the Secretary planning to meet any civil society leaders or go to Novaya Gazeta or Ekho Moskvy or to any other media entities in Russia?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, she is a doing a meeting with civil society leaders.

QUESTION: Can you specify more about that – what leaders, who is going to participate?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I can get back to you with that because I don’t have the list in front of me. But she’s going to do a session with various civil society and human rights groups.

QUESTION: Is she going to give an interview to the Russian media while she’s in Moscow?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’m not sure. I don’t have the details on that. We can get back to you.

QUESTION: With the issue of democracy, I wonder how she handles it in Kazan as well, because it’s not exactly a bastion of democracy, although religious freedom (inaudible).

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. Well, what I can tell you is that she’ll talk about all of those things. You saw her statement yesterday, right, on the killings and lack of accountability. And she feels very strongly about that and she will raise it in person, and she will talk about issues of democracy and human rights, which remain very important to us.

QUESTION: Both in Moscow and in Kazan?


QUESTION: Back to Iran – I mean, that’s obviously on the agenda. The technical experts are meeting, obviously, so is there any hope that they made progress, or noises from the Russian that they were more in line with the British, French, and the U.S. on the way forward in Iran? Is that hopeful?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes. I mean, that is going to – it’ll be very high on the agenda, I mean – as it was in New York – I mean, of the P-5+1, and then since then, we had Geneva. And you saw Medvedev’s comments about sanctions in Iran in New York, and we want to follow up on that, and of course, the Geneva announcement about taking LEU out of Iran and to be turned into fuel in Russia. These are all things that we want to follow up on in Moscow, and that’s one of the reasons she’s going.

QUESTION: I mean, are you hoping that there is a specific declaration by the Russians that they’re willing to go along on any of those points? Or is it –

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t know that we’re looking for any specific new commitments that we hope to make this week. But yes, we’re looking to move that cooperation forward, because Russia plays a key role in what we’re trying to do together on Iran. And it’s – again, I expect that to be very high on the agenda.

QUESTION: On other baskets of issues, what about Georgia? Where is that? Is that also high, medium high?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The Secretary will raise Georgia. I mean, the President has made clear from the start that the better relationship we want with Russia does not mean that we don’t talk about things that we disagree on. And that’s what he did in Moscow in July, and that’s what she’s going to do this time.

We will talk about all of the things that we’re cooperating on and hope to cooperate on – Afghan lethal transit, arms control, Afghanistan, and so on, Iran. But we’ll also talk about things we disagree on, which can include views of democracy and human rights. Certainly, we disagree on Georgia, we disagree on NATO enlargement, and that’s the relationship that we have. And our view is that we can pursue the better, more constructive relationship without sacrificing our principles or our friends, and that’s what she’s going to do.

QUESTION: But what more can she say about Georgia other than the report that came out recently? I mean, what specifically would she want to say about Georgia?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, she will reiterate our view in support of Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and encourage the Russians to fully implement the ceasefires of August and September 2008, which we don’t believe that they have done. And to do so, to insist that this remain on the table, we don’t consider Georgia satisfactorily settled right now. It’s still a problem and an issue, and we want to see international independent observers throughout Georgia. We want to see humanitarian groups have access to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. And we don’t accept Russia’s recognition of those breakaway entities. So we want to keep this on the international agenda because the status quo is not a good or healthy one.

QUESTION: And how would you characterize the transatlantic relations at this point? They are (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, I think they’re actually very good. I think – I mean, there are always difficult issues that we’re constantly grappling with. But if you think about the big issues of the day – Iran, Afghanistan, climate change, the international economy – I think you’ve seen a pretty solid degree of transatlantic cooperation. The leaders meet and talk regularly. And in the face of very difficult problems, I think we’re very pleased with the degree of transatlantic convergence. We sometimes wish that were a sufficient condition for solving these problems rather than just a necessary one. But I think the state of transatlantic relations is very good.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan, what’s the extent of the cooperation of the alliance in this new strategy?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I mean, they’re two different things. First, it’s worth underscoring there are more than 35,000 allied troops in Afghanistan. And that, in and of itself, is hugely important and reflects a very significant degree of transatlantic cooperation. I mean, it is basically a NATO mission that is providing security in Afghanistan, including for the vast majority of American forces that are over there. That’s the first point. And that is partly an answer, according to your first question. That’s already a very positive aspect of transatlantic cooperation. And because of that, our review of Afghanistan necessarily includes discussions with allies.

At present, the President is reviewing the assessment by General McChrystal and deciding what is best for the United States and what we think the best way forward is. But necessarily, this will be done in cooperation with allies who are playing a major role on the ground. And again, I am sure that the Secretary in London, and with Foreign Minister Kouchner on this trip, will talk about our thinking on the issue.

QUESTION: Speaking of the topic of transatlantic, our colleagues on the sceptred isle have been writing quite a bit about the nature of the U.S.-UK relationship. Is there any effort by the Secretary to reassure the Brits that the special relationship is still special, or is that not part of what she’s going to do there?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think the very fact of traveling to London and meeting with the prime minister and the foreign minister on all of the issues we most care about is a reflection of the importance of the relationship. And she’ll – of course she will underscore that. Britain remains a close and critically important ally. We’re just talking about Afghanistan where they have 8,000 troops which we’re enormously grateful for, and is a reflection of how closely we cooperate and how important their contributions are.

QUESTION: Why is she spending so much time in Ireland?


QUESTION: No. She should be spending more time. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: She should be going to the Guinness brewery, too. (Laughter.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: She is making a visit to Ireland and Northern Ireland, her first as Secretary of State, because she cares deeply about the issue, because millions of Americans care deeply about the issue, because the United States has interests there and has been an important actor in bringing about a very successful peace process. So I don’t think it’s a particularly large amount of time in the grand scheme of things to take whatever it is, a day and a half or two, to do what she can to help to continue to move the process along.

QUESTION: Is she a little concerned by the recent events? There’s some violence by fringe groups. There’s also justice in courts. They have to resolve power-sharing issues there.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Sure. Well, indeed, it’s because there are some remaining issues and more work to do that it’s important that she go and try to help. And yes, of course she’s concerned when violence flares up again. I think in the grand scheme of things, violence is obviously dramatically less than it used to be. But both of the issues you mentioned are a reminder that this is far from completely finished business. And that’s, again, why she wants to lend her support to the parties in finishing the job.

QUESTION: Any chance she’ll ask for more help in Guantanamo in Ireland?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We have consistently, as you know, been asking all of our friends across Europe to help more in Guantanamo. And help, wherever offered, is welcome.

MR. KELLY: Okay.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can we stay on Afghanistan? What else have you discussed in Russia regarding Afghanistan? The lethal flights has been settled. Is there anything else to be covered?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Sure. I mean, lethal flights is now underway, and that’s a good thing. But there’s also – the Russians could provide more assistance to Afghanistan, including in the form of weapons for the Afghan army, training, counternarcotics. I mean, they have a major role as well beyond the logistical one, and that’s worth pursuing with them as well.

QUESTION: Thank you.


PRN: 2009/1014

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