THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
Press Filing Center
2:27 P.M. CEST
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Today I have with me two guests to participate in the briefing. On my left, your right, Ben Rhodes, the President’s Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, who briefed with me the other day. On my right, your left, Mike McFaul. He is the Senior Director for Russia and Eurasian Affairs at the National Security Council. And Mike will start by giving you a readout of the President’s bilateral meeting with President Medvedev of Russia, which concluded a little while ago.
MR. McFAUL: Thank you all. We just concluded what I -- I don’t know the count, but has been one of many numerous meetings that President Obama and President Medvedev have had over the last two and a half years. In anticipation of this meeting, our two governments worked together to finish a lot of different statements and agreements. You all have them. I’m happy to go through them in detail if you’re interested.
What I do want to note, which the President noted in his remarks publicly and as he did privately with President Medvedev as well, is that it is our aim and intention to develop a multidimensional relationship with Russia, not simply one about arms control. The two Presidents have pledged to do that, and particularly on economic relations, to try to expand the scope of what we do together. And the number of agreements on the various things I think is a testimony to that kind of relationship that we’re seeking to build with the Russians.
And one way -- I guess another way to think about it is we’re developing a kind of normal relationship with Russia, something that one could not have said two and a half years ago.
In terms of the substance of the meeting, there were three main topics. Obviously the Middle East and North Africa was the first topic of conversation, where the two Presidents exchanged views about what’s going on in Libya, throughout the region, and Iran, which of course is always a topic of conversation between President Medvedev and Obama.
Second, we spent a great deal of time talking about Russia’s accession to the WTO. As you know, President Obama has made it clear that the United States supports Russia’s accession to the WTO as soon as possible. Our two teams have worked on this in Geneva, in Washington, at virtually -- not virtually -- at every bilateral meeting we’ve had between the two Presidents over the last two years. And now we’re in the endgame. That means that there are some very difficult issues remaining. But the exchange today was, let’s figure out a way to solve these remaining issues and get this piece of business done.
And then finally, the two Presidents spoke about missile defense cooperation. As you all will remember, just a few years ago, this was a major issue of confrontation -- maybe the single most confrontational issue in U.S.-Russian relations. In Lisbon several months ago, President Medvedev, President Obama, and the rest of the alliance worked together on a series of statements to try to find a way to cooperate on missile defense in place of the confrontational relationship we’ve had over this issue before.
Today the two Presidents talked about the progress that has been made, noting that many delegations, probably a couple of dozens, I would guess, have met between the Lisbon summit and today, in the military channel, in the diplomatic channel, to try to carve a path forward in terms of how we can cooperate on this, and the two Presidents talked about that progress and then sent the signal to both governments that we want to accelerate that and to try to have genuine cooperation in the near future.
MR. RHODES: I’ll just -- a couple points and then we’ll take questions. Just to clarify the rest of the day for you, after the meeting with President Medvedev, the President started the G8 meetings with a working lunch. Then there will be a session this afternoon focused on nuclear security, climate change, and a range of issues of cooperation with emerging countries on those issues, nuclear security and climate change.
And then the second session this afternoon, President Sarkozy is focusing on the Internet and a range of associated issues. And then the President will have a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Kan of Japan later this afternoon at 5:30 p.m., roughly. And then there’s a working dinner that the leaders will have later tonight.
We’ll have a statement out on this later this afternoon, but of course we -- the United States is delighted to hear the announcement of the Serbian government that they’ve captured Ratko Mladic. We congratulate the Serbian authorities on the success of this very important effort. We look forward to Mladic’s expeditious transfer to the tribunal in The Hague. And again, I think today our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims of so many people who suffered under the violence and tyranny of Mladic. And I think today also underscores, however, that justice will come to those who carry out these types of crimes against humanity, that the international community will be unrelenting in the pursuit of that justice. And we certainly congratulate the Serbian government and have made our support for them known over the course of the last several months in terms of their successful pursuit of this outcome.
So with that we’ll take some questions.
MR. CARNEY: And I’ll direct the question accordingly. I’ll do the sort of cats and dogs, and then we have Mike and Ben here to take issues specific to their areas.
Q I had two questions on the Russia bilat. When you listen to Medvedev’s remarks again, when he was talking about 2020, it sounded like he was saying that it’s going to take the U.S. and Russia until 2020 to reach an agreement on missile defense. Can you clarify that? And then also you talked about how the relationship on missile defense used to be very contentious, but Medvedev’s own rhetoric has really been heated recently. He said that if the U.S. and Russia don’t reach a cooperation it could start a new arms race. What do you guys make of that rhetoric?
MR. McFAUL: So, to clarify on 2020, what I heard him say -- and I speak Russian -- and what I’ve heard him say many times so I think I know what he was trying to say -- 2020 is when we get to the final phase of the European phased adaptive approach, our missile defense program that we will do in Europe, and what the Russian concern is -- wrong in my view, wrong in our view, to be very clear about that -- but they have a perception that when we get to that phase, that there may be some capability to threaten what we call strategic stability. In other words, that would be able to threaten their ICBMs.
We have no intention of doing that. We’ve said that clearly. In our view, the science also supports that; we don’t have that capability. But the point -- he puts that marker out there to say that we have to have cooperation before then because if we don’t then we’re going to have to think about these more dire scenarios that you just mentioned.
Now, in the meeting, they both -- both Presidents firmly stated and exchanged views -- nobody has an interest in that, and that’s the pressure on us to get that done, but neither side has an interest in returning to those dark days, and we have time to work this out. I would just remind you that it was only in November in Lisbon when we finally agreed that we were going to try to cooperate. It’s just been a few months, six months. This is a very hard issue. There’s a lot of old thinking in both of our governments, frankly. This is a new challenge to think about how to do this cooperatively.
I would also remind you that we want to do this in the context of the NATO-Russia Council so that this is not just a bilateral issue; we also have to have all of our NATO allies on board. And given those parameters, I was very pleased with the progress that we made in the discussions and both Presidents agreed to give a signal to our governments to keep working this issue.
Q Mike, can you go through what the outstanding issues are with Russia’s accession to the WTO? And also, did Medvedev say anything about Russia playing a role in the Arab Spring, in the Middle East-North Africa, or are they just going to sit back and watch it?
Q Could you repeat the question?
MR. McFAUL: The question is to outline the outstanding issues for Russia to join the WTO, and then Russia’s position on the events in the Middle East and North Africa.
If I went through all the outstanding issues I would kill this press conference very quickly.
Q Just the top --
MR. McFAUL: Yes, yes, I’m kidding -- which is to say, remember this has been going on for two decades, this negotiation. Two decades. We’re at the endgame. I would say roughly three-quarters of the working group report that goes before the general council of the WTO are more or less done. And we kind of act as their sherpa in Geneva and help them with that, and that’s going well. There are some issues of enforcement of intellectual property rights. There are some issues about phytosanitary -- getting their -- the way they treat the import of poultry and pork in particular. We want to make sure they are WTO-consistent.
I think those are technical issues that we’re going to be able to work. Same with autos. One of the biggest issues still outstanding, though, is Georgia. And just to be clear on the mechanics here, if you’re a member of the working group for Russia, which is country -- about 55, 56 countries -- that group has to agree by consensus to forward the report to the general council for allegedly a vote. In practice, it’s always done by consensus, and so Georgia has not yet agreed to that.
And the two Presidents discussed that at length today. They talked about potential compromises. And I don’t think it would be right to get into the details of that negotiation, but I was optimistic about the exchange they had in terms of trying to resolve that issue.
Q And the Middle East and --
MR. McFAUL: Middle East -- I would just say -- I would characterize it this way. It was a very important step, obviously, for the Russians to abstain on U.N. Security Council 1973 -- without question. I think there has been from various Russian government officials in the press some concern about whether we’ve gone too far in terms of what was mandated there and what was not. The Presidents discussed that, and I would just say that I was struck by how closely the two Presidents think about this particular problem -- Libya -- and not the divergencies you’ve seen in the press by other people.
MR. RHODES: And I’d just add one thing to that, on Libya, in particular. The President, after that discussion, noted that he felt it would be important for the United States to continue to consult with the Russians about events in Libya and about events in the region going forward. So we believe it’s very important, just as we are working closely with our coalition partners, that we’re having conversations with Russia, that we’re hearing their ideas and we’re keeping them updated on the nature of our engagement in Libya and the potential for a transition to a better Libya.
Q I have a follow-up on Libya. So it’s no secret that apparently some of our allies, particularly here, would like to see more U.S. military engagement in the campaign there. Can you -- if the fact that the War Powers Act -- the fact that there’s some grumbling from members of Congress that there isn’t legal authorization for this now -- does that hold back -- I mean, is that part of the conversations you’re having with allies about why the U.S. can’t do more -- can’t do some things they would like the U.S. to do militarily? And if that is the reason, is that a reason to get Congress to act and not just ask for a resolution of support but actual authorization?
MR. RHODES: No, it’s really distinct from that issue. The nature of our contributions in Libya were laid out by the President before the operation, both in his speech to the American people, but even preceding that, in calls with President Sarkozy, Prime Minister Cameron. And again, he was very clear that there would be a very heavy U.S. military engagement on the front end, that part of that purpose was to stop Qaddafi’s forces, to pave the way for enforcement of a no-fly zone, and there would be a transition to allies and partners.
I think that those discussions happened on the front end. There were discussions in the following weeks about additional capabilities we might bring to bear, and the President has provided one of those capabilities with our unmanned aerial capability, which has some precision targeting, which is important in parts of Libya.
But I think the important thing to understand is there are many ways in which we’re supporting this effort. Now, when you talk about the military piece, that obviously includes logistical support, intelligence, targeting, jamming of Libyan command and control communications, and a range of things that allow the operation to go forward effectively.
But that alone is not the only piece here. There’s enforcement of robust financial sanctions on the Qaddafi regime. There’s the need to provide support for the Libyan opposition. And to that end, the United States is increasing our diplomatic connections with the opposition. We just announced they can open up an office in Washington; we have an envoy in Benghazi; we welcomed them to the White House recently. We’ve agreed to provide non-lethal assistance to them. We’re exploring ways that we can vest some of the assets that we seized from Qaddafi and provide some of those assets to the opposition, so we’re working with Congress on that now.
We’re providing a lot of diplomatic support for this effort. The President of the United States talking to the President of Russia about this is an important way to try to keep a degree of international unity and support for what we’re doing and an understanding of what we’re doing.
So I think that if you stack up those contributions, you have to keep in mind that there’s a civilian protection mission, which we are playing a robust role in through our support role. But again, there’s also this diplomatic engagement; there’s also the support for the opposition, which inevitably is going to have to be a key actor in the future of Libya. And there’s maintenance of both allied support and of course contacts with other governments.
So we feel very confident -- and Prime Minister Cameron did yesterday -- that the U.S. role is robust and is advancing the mission. And I think our allies fully understand the nature of our commitments, because President Obama has been very clear in public and private what they would be. And that’s distinct from and predates some of the issues that you suggest, because President Obama laid this out even before we engaged in this action.
Q Jay, do you want to comment real quickly on the new GDP numbers that came out? Has the President been briefed on them?
MR. CARNEY: I’m sure he has been briefed, but I don’t have anything. It’s fairly breaking news, so I don’t have anything for you on it yet.
Q Thank you. First question is for Mike. Mike, are you optimistic -- you talked about your optimism about the WTO talks. Do you think that this endgame or final phase will end in their accession this year? And will that Georgia issue be worked out in order for that to happen?
And then I have a follow-up for Ben on a separate issue -- if you have anything new to say about the violence in Yemen today.
MR. RHODES: Violence in where?
MR. McFAUL: Well, numerous senior government officials have said that that’s our aspiration and expectation for it to finish this year.
Q But is it likely?
MR. McFAUL: It’s a negotiation that we’re ultimately on the sidelines of. We’re not the negotiating party. So that’s a question really for the Russians. I think it’s well within the realm of the possibility, yes. There’s no fundamental issues remaining that would lead me to believe that this needs to bleed into the next year. But it ultimately will depend on the will of the Russian government. But from the way that we see it, and I would say the U.S. government sees it, this is something that could be done this year.
Q And is the will -- I mean, that issue you referred to with Georgia, is that something that’s a sticking point with the Russian government, not with the Georgian government?
MR. McFAUL: Well, it’s both, of course. But it’s not one that -- again, from our point of view, looking as bystanders, it seems like it’s one that there’s a compromise solution.
MR. RHODES: Just on Yemen, we’ve been tracking the situation there very closely. We’ve strongly condemned any violence against peaceful protesters and violence -- and use of violence in any way in Yemen.
And I think the events that we’ve seen today and yesterday underscore why it’s so urgent and why we’ve been pressing so hard for this GCC-backed agreement to be finalized, for President Saleh to undertake the peaceful transfer of power that was committed to as a part of that agreement.
So in the first instance, we obviously strongly condemn violence. In the second instance, it underscores the urgency of moving to a political transition that is responsive to the aspirations of the Yemeni people. And that’s what we’re going to continue to focus on. And I think to that end you saw the President speak to this in his speech. John Brennan has spoken to President Saleh on several occasions in recent weeks. And that’s what we’re going to continue to work towards.
Q Thank you, Jay. Has President Medvedev discussed with President Obama any new ideas how to break the current impasse in Libya, like sort of mediation from the Russians or something with Qaddafi?
MR. McFAUL: The question is, has the Presidents talked about a way to break the impasse. The answer is yes, they discussed that today. And as Ben has already alluded to, President Obama wants to work with President Medvedev and with Russia to try to break the impasse.
On the details, I don’t think we should get into those. But the idea that they are searching for ways to break the impasse and that President Obama is leading that initiative to work with the Russians, the answer is yes.
MR. RHODES: I would just add that it was -- and it was noted, of course, that Russia has relations, not just in Libya but across most of North Africa. It has some deep relations and contacts. That’s certainly true in Libya. So to that, this is a country that they have some familiarity with, and we can benefit from those types of consultations and contacts with them.
Q Did you get any assurance that they’re going to block any effort from the United Nations in a resolution against Syria?
MR. RHODES: They didn’t have a specific discussion on that issue beyond kind of a general discussion of the events in the region. So there was no specific discussion of U.N. action.
Q Ben, actually, just to pick up on that very quickly, Medvedev called Bashar Assad apparently right before he came here, and it was clear earlier that Russia and the U.S. were pretty far apart in how they view that situation. Do you have a sense, based on this meeting, that there’s any movement toward each other? Are the Russians more concerned that they may have seemed two weeks ago, three weeks ago?
MR. RHODES: I think that, as we’ve said, they talked about the region generally, but the two countries that were focus of specific discussions were Libya and Iran, of course. But to get at your question another way, first of all, the President did note, as Mike said, that Russia’s abstention was obviously essential to the passage of 1973 with regard to Libya.
With regard to Syria, I think what we’ve seen is we’ve tried to build as broad a coalition or coordination mechanism as possible for increasing pressure on the Syrians. We saw that through the coordination, in many respects, of the EU and U.S. sanctions on Syria and on the Assad regime and President Assad himself. And we want to build out that coordination. And frankly, right now what you have is you have the United States and the EU in the lead on this. Kind of speaks to some of the themes of the President’s speech yesterday -- if we don’t do it, who will?
And I think what we want to do here at the G8 today and tomorrow is they’ll have discussions about the future of the region generally. I’m sure Syria will come up. So in that context, I think we want to have a strong and unified voice that we’re speaking with our allies and all who share concerns for the rights of the Syrian people. And I’m sure there will be discussions throughout the next couple of days, not just among the U.S. and Europe but with Russia and Japan as well, of course.
I don’t know, Mike, if you have anything to add on that.
MR. McFAUL: Just -- actually, not on that, but one small footnote to the conversation. There was another set of countries that were discussed, and that was President Medvedev went out of his way to congratulate President Obama for the successful operation against Osama bin Laden. And President Obama went out of his way, therefore, to thank the Russians for support for our supply lines through to Afghanistan, through what we call the Northern Distribution Network. And there was really -- just to be clear, there was a real meeting of the minds about our common objective in that part of the world as well.
Q The pool report said that the spray -- the demeanor and the body language was stern, maybe not distant, and that they repeatedly stated that the relationship is good, like maybe perhaps too much. Can you just give your take on the interaction?
MR. RHODES: Yes, I’ll turn to Mike. Having -- he’s been in all these meetings; I’ve been in some. But I think the very personal -- very warm interpersonal relationship in fact actually is a very free-flowing discussion, I noticed. This is not two guys reading each other their talking points. They had a conversation. And frankly, they also joke around a lot. There were repeated instances in the meeting of humor.
So I think it was a very positive meeting, and frankly, it spoke to -- and they made reference to the fact several times that the reason that they can talk about the issues they’re talking about now is because of the amount of time they’ve invested in that personal relationship; that it was only because of the rapport they built up with each other in negotiating the START treaty and working through a range of issues in 2009, like around sanctions, for instance, that they’re kind of now able to get to this second level of issues around missile defense, for instance, which are fundamental strategic concerns of both countries.
So the leaders themselves referenced the fact that they understand that it’s frankly that relationship that has allowed them to build up the trust to even be having a discussion about Libya or missile defense, which would have been a very difficult thing to do just two years ago.
I don’t know -- Mike?
MR. McFAUL: Just to echo, I mean, I’ve been literally in every meeting and every conversation between these two gentlemen. It was not stern -- I don’t know where that came from. Didn’t seem that way to me.
MR. RHODES: It was hot.
MR. McFAUL: It was hot in the room, yes. But the conversation -- I mean, just to reiterate something Ben said, and to give a little historical context, missile defense has been an issue of major confrontation between the United States and Russia and between the United States and the Soviet Union; let’s remember that. It goes way back. Major issue of confrontation. The idea that Russia would acquiesce and formally -- would support a U.N. action within a country -- unprecedented, either in Russian or Soviet history.
So the point that Ben is making -- and WTO, it’s gone on for 20 years. We’re trying to get it over with, right? We don’t want it to go for another 20 years. In other words, the three subjects that we’re talking about today would not have been an issue that you could hope to have cooperation on just a few years ago, let alone several years ago.
And I do think it’s a testimony -- and I want to reiterate -- they both said that to each other privately. They said, what we’ve done personally in trying to work this relationship between the two of us has put the U.S.-Russia relationship in a fundamentally different place. And I think both leaders are proud of that achievement that they’ve done, which has after all only been a couple of years.
MR. CARNEY: If I could just add, I think, Carrie, part of it is an issue of translation. I think the President -- Russian President Medvedev was emphasizing the importance of the personal relationship, in the language he used, and how it allows them to tackle these issues because they have such good interpersonal relations.
MR. RHODES: That’s from a Russian-speaking press secretary. (Laughter.)
Q Mike, was the Russian initiative, the nuclear security agreement, discussed? And what is the position? I mean, they’re proposing global stands with the industry.
MR. McFAUL: Was the Russian security initiative for the summit discussed? The answer is no. I think they -- the meeting went very long, as you saw, and I think they just said we’ll be talking about this later in the meeting.
The issue of nuclear security cooperation in general was discussed, and they both affirmed that we’re on the same side.
Q What’s the administration position on safety standards and the whole Russian idea? Can you say yet?
MR. RHODES: You know, first of all, just to reiterate Mike’s point that there’s a session that’s kind of devoted to this set of issues. So I imagine it will come up certainly there.
Our approach broadly is captured in the follow-on to the Nuclear Security Summit in which there is an action plan and national commitments embedded in that action plan to fulfill the goal of securing all nuclear materials. And we welcome ideas, including Russia’s ideas, about ways to ensure that there is high standards for security. And I think we’ll just -- it’s in your proposal -- they’ll be discussing in the context of a session that’s devoted to those issues today.
Q You talked about the personal aspect of this relationship, but has the reset gone beyond that? I mean, is there something there that can survive, for example, Medvedev not being reelected? And do you foresee any sort of political difficulties for U.S.-Russia relations, especially in the context of the Russian election next year?
MR. McFAUL: Well, first of all, let me be clear -- and I know we’ve talked with some of you before. We never started out with the reset policy to have better relations with Russia or to have a better relationship with their President. It’s always been to advance our national security interests, our economic interests, our interest in promoting our values -- right? So the idea that we wanted better relations -- no, we wanted actually to do substantive things together. That came from the President from the very get-go.
And the 12 agreements that we got done for this meeting, for instance -- including some which may not seem important to you, but on visas, for instance, for our business community to have three-year multiple-entry visas -- that’s what we’re committing to -- that’s going to make -- that’s going to enhance our business connections with Russia immensely. That’s -- their number-one concern actually is that. And some of the other things we’ve been talking about would probably be secondary.
So, just to be clear, that’s always been the focus. But as a result of getting things done and both Presidents being rewarded from the investment of time that they’ve made in the relationship, they obviously have developed a close rapport, a working relationship, and as Ben said, can joke about things and make fun -- I’m not going to tell you what they joked about, but they can joke about other people in other ways that I don’t think happens all the time at this kind of level.
Concerning the elections, that’s obviously for the Russians to decide. That’s not for us to decide. We have a set of national interests in working with Russia on the set of things we’ve just been talking about, and we will continue to do so, irrespective of what happens in the Russian election next year.
MR. RHODES: I’d just add a couple points, Steve, because your question is really a good one. And I think what we’ve seen happen is they can drive the relationship and they can push, frankly, their own governments who have habits, I think, of mistrust. And in order to get this business done it forces people to build contacts. So throughout the START negotiations, our military and our diplomats spent hundreds and hundreds of hours with their Russian counterparts, because they were trying to advance the goal that the Presidents set out. So that, in turn, builds up those types of contacts.
Missile defense, what Mike referenced, the type of cooperation that we’re now pursuing necessitates discussions among our militaries and among our governments about the prospect of missile defense going forward, about our assessments of threats and capabilities. So that, in and of itself, builds up that kind of foundation.
And I’d add -- it’s somewhat relevant to Julie’s question because one of the other comments that the Presidents made about what they’re trying to do is both deal with the Phase Four issue but also build a foundation that can extend well beyond their terms, so that this is not just something that the two of them are invested in but the United States and Russia see it in their common interests and have made, again, commitments across our governments to work together in a sense of cooperation in ways that will endure for years to come.
MR. CARNEY: I think we have the Tribune -- do you still have a question? Bloomberg and CNN and then Toshi.
Q I just wanted to follow up. Mike, you said that there was some progress made on missile defense. Can you talk about what that was?
MR. McFAUL: Well, to give you some context, since Lisbon, we actually have three different working groups that have been stood up on missile defense cooperation -- three different channels. One is a military-to-military channel. The other is a Department of Defense-to-Ministry of Defense channel. And the third is a State Department-to-Ministry of Foreign Affairs channel. Okay? And all three are working on different pieces.
So the State Department and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Russia are working on a political agreement that would kind of set the contours about the principles under which we are going to cooperate. The Ministry of Defense-Department of Defense channel is working out, I would say, more of the operational details that have to do with exchange of data; that have to do with exchange of how we would put our two systems together and how they would interface. And that’s a lot of technical details, right?
And we could probably get you -- this is all nothing secret -- but there’s been a tremendous amount of working through those kinds of details, one, to talk about how -- why their fears are wrong, from our point of view, and two, to talk about how you would operationalize the interaction between Russia’s missile defense capabilities and ours.
Q So you mean progress prior to this meeting today, not progress in the meeting?
MR. McFAUL: No, I would say there was progress in the meeting today as well, because, like Ben said -- and I think it’s an excellent point -- on anything that’s been hard and important in U.S.-Russia relations, more times than not it’s the two Presidents that actually get into the details and negotiate it. They did on the START treaty; they did on the Iranian sanctions; they’ve done it on WTO. They got into weeds today on WTO. And they did it on missile defense again today.
And the point was to talk about in particular this Phase Four that we were alluding to before and why we have to work this because we have some different perceptions of capabilities and what happens. And that happened today and like they normally do -- just now that I’ve witnessed this -- they then said, well, let’s send a signal to our teams -- and by the way, the teams are sitting in the room -- to follow up on what they just had talked about.
And we got a new signal on missile defense cooperation that as soon as I’m done here I’ll be engaging on that with the rest of the U.S. government.
MR. CARNEY: Bloomberg.
Q Any progress on the President’s goal for -- both for Egypt and Tunisia? And also, did IMF succession come up, Christine Lagarde -- did her name come in the mix at all? Did they talk about who the next head of the IMF should be?
MR. RHODES: On the second question, they did not. We expect it to be a topic of discussions, though, over the course of the next two days. But they didn’t get into any specific individuals. And we, of course, are supportive of a highly qualified individual who has broad support taking the helm, but there weren’t individuals discussed in this meeting.
With regard to Egypt, that was discussed not in detail with President Medvedev because there are sessions devoted to it. I think, though, that President Obama found Prime Minister Cameron was very committed to pursuing an economic program of support for Egypt and Tunisia, and they discussed that at length in their meeting yesterday.
Chancellor Merkel, President Sarkozy, a number of leaders have all stressed the importance of using these meetings to show a unified front in providing support for Egypt and Tunisia.
And looking at the kinds of tools that the President discussed in his speech, which would include how can international institutions -- the IMF, for instance, agencies of the United Nations, the European Reconstruction and Development Bank -- as the President said in his speech, how can we both use the tools we have and then reorient the focus of some of those institutions, particularly the European Reconstruction and Development Bank, to support Egypt and Tunisia. What actions can nations take along lines of the United States in terms of issues related to debt and issues related to investment and trade with Egypt and Tunisia?
So I think what we’re going to be discussing tomorrow with the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia is what are the kind of concrete things that can be done by the international community both in that stabilization context and using some of the expertise and resources of the international community, but also in building relationships in trade and in investment around debt that can provide an immediate boost of support to what are very important democratic transitions.
Q On the economy, what can we expect to happen here that will really affect Americans in a very tangible way, either on economic growth or coordinated efforts to deal with debt or other areas?
MR. RHODES: Well, I’d just say a couple of things and -- oh, yes, the question was particularly on the economy, I guess, or what are the concrete benefits or importance to the American people of the discussions here.
First of all, obviously on the security side, these are very -- all the core issues that are relevant to the American people -- or many of them are at least here on the agenda here. These are partners with us in Afghanistan; that will be a topic of conversation. Nuclear security is of course the greatest threat that we face, and discussions here will advance the goal that the President has been focused on since he came into office of securing all nuclear material around the world.
We’re obviously engaged in Libya and an important effort to stop a massacre and to bring a greater degree of stability and democracy to an important region where we have vital interests. So Libya will be an important topic of discussion.
But with regard to the economy, I think what we’ve learned since the recession and since we came into office is that if we’re not having -- we’re not using forums like the G8 and the G20 to coordinate with European and other major economies like Japan and Russia, we’re not going to be able to deal with the inevitable hurdles that our recovery is facing. So I think it’s another opportunity to make sure that there is a coordinated approach to sustaining that recovery. I’m sure they’ll discuss some of the issues associated with the challenges in the euro zone that we see these days.
And again, I think that in the absence of that type of mechanism for coordination, it becomes very difficult for us to move forward with what really needs to be a global economic recovery and not just a national one. Because we’ve seen, frankly, the shocks that can come back into our system when there are disruptions abroad.
MR. CARNEY: Toshi and then Carol.
Q Thank you, Jay. On bilat meeting between Prime Minister Kan and the President, what will be the main issue for agenda which U.S. wants to raise? And also, especially are they going to talk about economic impact of the earthquake in Japan on the U.S. economy, sort of disruption of the supply chain? And also, what would be the key message from the President to the Japanese people at this meeting?
MR. RHODES: The question is related to the bilat with Japan. And actually I’m glad you asked the question because it reinforces the point, we did of course see the disruption -- some disruption to the global economy that had a degree -- not a great degree but a degree of impact on the United States. So again, this is something that is very important to global economic growth as well, of course, to the Japanese people.
But in terms of the bilat, I think first of all they’ll focus on Japan’s ongoing efforts to recover and rebuild from the devastating tsunami and, of course, the nuclear issues that followed on from that. I think the U.S. has provided a high degree of support throughout those efforts in the immediate aftermath through the actions of our military and others, and then in terms of disaster relief. But then also technical expertise consultations around the set of very complex challenges that emerged at Fukushima around the entire rebuilding effort. So I think they’ll discuss the status of that effort, what is the status of Japan’s recovery and rebuilding efforts; what kind of role can the United States continue to play as an ally in supporting those efforts. But I also think it’s important to note that the Japanese Prime Minister’s presence here underscores that even as Japan deals with these issues within its borders that it’s a key global player, and that they’re still deeply engaged in the agenda here at the G8, whether it’s the type of development assistance it provides; nuclear security cooperation; again, climate change; the assistance they provided in Afghanistan, for instance.
So I think one of the core messages that the President has is not only do we stand with you and support you as you recover and rebuild, but we also strongly believe that Japan is going to continue to play a role on the global stage. And we, the United States as a close ally, of course are going to strongly reinforce the importance of Japan playing a role on the global stage.
So again, part of the meeting will be on the recent events, but I think the very fact that they’ll also be discussing a broader agenda speaks to the fact that Japan is both going to be able to recover and rebuild, and also play the role it’s played on the world stage.
MR. CARNEY: Carol.
Q A couple things. One, on Syria, can you just talk about -- are you guys expecting a joint declaration tomorrow from the leaders on Syria? And can you just reiterate how long the President and President Medvedev met for? And thirdly, the President said that much of the meeting focused on economics. Can you describe what he meant by that?
MR. RHODES: Can I describe what, sorry?
Q What he meant by that?
MR. RHODES: On economics?
Q Yes, he said much of the meeting focused on economics --
MR. RHODES: Well, yes -- the question was how long did the meeting last, and what did the President mean when he said that it focused on economics.
MR. CARNEY: Syria.
MR. RHODES: And Syria, and Syria. So just on the Russia piece. It was an hour and a half. I think it started around 11:30 a.m. The President came right in and went directly to the bilat, and it went to somewhere around 1:00 p.m., so roughly an hour and a half.
By economics, he meant the WTO discussions which I think took up at least a third of the time. There were the three core issues that Mike discussed, and the WTO was at least -- was as long as any of the other issues that they addressed, in addition to some of the announcements Mike made reference to that were finished before the meeting that addressed a range of economic issues that Mike can go through with you.
On Syria, I think -- I’m not going to preview specific language. I think that what we want to do tomorrow is send a signal that the G8 and the nations here are strongly supportive of the movements for democratic change in the region; that that support can manifest itself in concrete ways -- for instance, the economic issues around Egypt and Tunisia’s stabilization efforts and the ability of Egypt and Tunisia to reinforce their democratic transitions with prosperity. But I also think they’ll talk about specific countries in the region. Syria, Libya I’m sure will be topics of conversation. And we’ll be able to address the variety of ways in which individual nations are working on their own or together to sanction President Assad, for instance, and his regime, and to apply pressure that makes a clear signal to him that if he ramps up his crackdown, he’ll face growing consequences.
And I’ll also note that the President is meeting with President Sarkozy tomorrow -- and I’m sure that the agenda will include Libya and Syria and a number of these other countries.
Did you have something, Mike?
MR. McFAUL: Just a footnote on the economics, just to be clear, because Ben is absolutely right, the majority of the discussion was about WTO. But in previous meetings, both Presidents agreed that we needed to do more on economics, to stimulate trade and investment. I think that the last meeting, if I’m not mistaken -- I might be mistaken -- but I think it was in Yokohama where they discussed trying to do more on innovation, and in the high-tech firm, as you may know, President Medvedev has an initiative to encourage investment in a place called Skolkovo, the Silicon Valley of Russia. So the idea was we should do more on that, today we’re standing up this working group on innovation as a way to do that.
Secondly, in several other meetings that the Presidents have had, they’ve talked about the relationship between rule of law and economic growth, and that if we don’t have good institutions, it’s hard to get the kinds of investment that President Medvedev is seeking in Russia. Pretty frank discussions on that, where the two Presidents agree. And as a result, a second working group that we started today, and now we’re up to 20, I think, working groups, maybe 21, in the Presidential Bilateral Commission.
The second one is precisely to look at those set of issues, and that was something we had aspired to do several months ago, and now we’ve initiated as of today.
MR. CARNEY: Can we just do two more? Can I get Al-Jazeera and the Times of London?
Q Can I get a reaction to Egypt’s plan to open the crossing in Gaza, and how you think that will impact the efforts to get economic aid for Egypt?
MR. RHODES: We are certainly -- oh, so the question was related to the opening of the border crossing in Gaza. We are gaining the clearest understanding that we can of the issue. We’re in touch with the Egyptian government about it. Again, in our view is, there needed to be steps taken to ensure that arms and materiel that could support violence are not permitted to cross the border. So we’ll be discussing ways in which we believe there need to be those types of precautions taken.
So that’s our principal interest. We’re discussing with them how they’re going to implement this and what it’s going to look like in practice. And we’re going to reinforce the importance that we believe that, while on the one hand, we very much do want to make sure that more humanitarian assistance and more aid and other types of support for the people of Gaza can get to them and allow them to live a better life, that we also, again, are not permitting the flow of weapons into Gaza, as has been the case in the past.
So that will be the nature of our discussions around those issues. And we’re, again, learning more about how it’s going to look in practice, but at the same time, we’re moving forward with support for I think what is a very important democratic transition.
And I think our view is Egypt is important for a number of reasons. First of all, it is the largest Arab country. It is, in many respects, a bellwether for the region, and that a successful democratic transition in Egypt, one in which you have stable democratic institutions that deliver for people and that are responsive to people, and you have a growing economy will be in the long run a huge boost to both the security of the region, but also the advance of democratic values in the region -- so that there’s a strong national interest on behalf of the United States, as well as the international community, in investing in the success of that transition. And that’s the topic of the discussion today.
And the second reason is simply also that they’re at the vanguard of these democratic movements. They were the second one, of course, after Tunisia, to have a transition take hold. So that’s why Tunisia as well as Egypt are the initial focal points of the economic program that the President discussed in his speech and that the leaders will discuss tomorrow.
MR. CARNEY: Last question. Giles.
Q Back on missile defense, for Mike. What can you say to the Russians that you have not said in the past 20 years to persuade them that Phase Four is not a threat to their ICBMs?
MR. McFAUL: Well, I can’t speak for the past 20 years, but I can speak for the last two and a half years. Let me just say a couple of things and then I’m going to get to the specific. We do not have an interest in undermining strategic stability. That’s not in our national security interest. I want to be very clear about that. Because we understand that if that happened that would lead to a new arms race.
The President has been very clear about that, that he has no interest in expanding our nuclear arsenals. He has an interest in making smaller our nuclear arsenal. So we have no national interest in undermining strategic stability. That’s a very important concept that I think we have to remind ourselves about. It’s not in our security interest.
Second, on the capabilities, we’re talking about a rocket, the SM-3 Block 2B, it’s called -- that we hope to deploy in Phase Four. First of all, let’s just be clear, this is a concept -- it doesn’t exist. This is way in the future. Second, we’ve shared the specs of this missile with the Russian -- their experts on missile defense and missile offense, by the way. We’ve sent General O’Reilly, the head of the Missile Defense Agency, numerous times now to brief them. So it’s not just a question of intent; it’s a question of physics.
And if you look at the maps -- and I’m wavering here where I know where unclassified and classified is, so forgive me --
MR. CARNEY: That’s where you rein it in, Mike. (Laughter.)
MR. McFAUL: All right. So -- (laughter) -- thank you. Thank you, gentlemen. But it’s just a question of physics, that it’s just not physically possible for the interceptors that we have planned for the EPAA to intercept Russian ICBMs.
Q But if it’s that clear, why do they not accept the argument?
MR. McFAUL: Their argument back -- which, again, I want to be clear we don’t accept -- their argument is that’s what you have today. That’s your technological abilities today. We don’t know what your technological capabilities will be in 2020.
We respond to that, yes, we can’t freeze technology. A, we’re not going to do that, and B, that’s not in our national interest. I want to be clear about this, too. We are in no way going to sign up to anything that even hints of constraints on our missile defense systems. That’s not in our national interest -- because there’s a real threat and there are real threats from other countries that we take very seriously -- Iran, first and foremost, when it comes to what we’re doing in Europe.
And the Presidents, by the way, had that exchange again today about why we’re doing this. It’s because of that threat.
What we say and what the President said again today is cooperate with us, work with us, get into our system. You get into our system and cooperate, you’ll have much better visibility and much better understanding about our real capabilities and these -- the fictitious ones. That will help you make your calculations about your national interest. And at the end of the day, if you see things that do threaten your national interest, there’s an easy solution to that, which is to withdraw and do other things.
We’re very confident that we’re not going to get to that because that’s not in our national interest. We know that that’s not going to happen. But because they don’t believe us, for these reasons, we say to them, get into the tent now, cooperate with us, and that will be your best insurance policy about what we’re actually doing. If we’re not cooperating, then you’re going to have to continue to guess about what we’re doing. And that kind of ambiguity, that kind of uncertainty does not serve stability.
MR. CARNEY: All right --
Q But Mike, when you say that they don’t believe you, isn’t that just another sign of a lack of trust still in this relationship?
MR. McFAUL: Yes. Let me remind you, it was six months ago that President Medvedev made a rather courageous decision, I would say, given what I know about the Russian government and the Russian system, to come to NATO -- remember what NATO was created to do originally -- he came to NATO and he said, I am willing to explore with you some new ideas about cooperation. That was a bold, historic step that he took at the NATO-Russia Council.
And therefore, one should not be surprised that just six months later that we have not figured out all the details. I -- as somebody who’s been following this stuff for three decades -- I am struck by the opposite -- by the acceleration of the pace of cooperation, and of the willingness for both sides to look at this stuff very seriously. We haven’t gotten there yet and it’s going to take some work. But I’m impressed by what we’ve gotten done in just a matter of months -- and not impressed, frankly, with those that are worried about what’s going to happen in the year 2020, because at the end of the day -- and I’m just repeating what my President firmly believes -- we’re not interested in an arms race with Russia. And that will -- I think will show in the way that we’re going to -- willing to cooperate with them on missile defense.
MR. RHODES: I’d just add one more thing, Julie. It’s the issue of trust and that trust builds up through these types of discussions. It’s also the issue of interest. And that was what drove the discussion the Presidents had today. We have a strong interest, a vital interest, in making sure we can defend ourselves and our allies against the threat of ballistic missiles -- from North Korea in the Pacific, and from Iran in particular in the European region, and potentially future actors.
So that’s why we have committed to a missile defense system that can protect all of our European allies. And of course, we’re pursuing a missile defense system that will also protect the American people. We believe that we would also benefit in terms of not just the capability of that missile defense system but also broader European stability and security through this type of cooperation with Russia. It opens the doors to other places to cooperate.
So, again, that’s our interest. What Russia is raising is the fact that they have an interest in strategic stability, that there not be something that upsets that basic balance that has assured the security of the United States and Russia as well. And we share that interest. So our argument to them is, the reason -- the foundation for that trust is we have a common interest in that we don’t want to upset the strategic balance and to return to the days of arms races and tensions between the United States and Russia that prevailed for so many decades.
So I think the foundation for the progress we’re making is both trust, but also common interests. And the more we can have these types of discussions, put our concerns on the table and answer those concerns -- because, frankly, all the questions you guys are asking were the questions that the Presidents were discussing today -- but the ability to do that allows you to build that foundation to move forward.
MR. CARNEY: Thanks, everybody.
END 3:25 P.M. CEST