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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Background Briefing by Senior State Department Official

En Route Moscow, Russia
October 12, 2009


MR. KELLY: We’re on background. Okay? Yeah, Janine.

QUESTION: What does she want to achieve here? I mean, (inaudible), I know (inaudible) already talked about the START , she’s going to put pressure on START. Is there something substantive that she wants to get out of this, either on Iran or any of those baskets of issues which you’ve reviewed already in the past?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes, as many as possible. I mean, you mentioned START, and I think I didn’t list that in the issues. It’s obviously near the top of the list. As you know, we’re trying to get a follow-on treaty negotiated and signed by December 5th. And there’s not a lot of time, and the negotiators have been working feverishly, and they’ve made good progress. But this will be an opportunity to bounce the ball. Our START negotiator, Assistant Secretary Rose Gottemoeller, will be here in Moscow. Under Secretary Ellen Tauscher will be here. They are seeing their counterparts, and they will also have an opportunity to participate in meetings together with the Secretary and Russian officials to talk in detail about the treaty and how we can move forward.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) before we left (inaudible), Lavrov got upset about something that Vershbow said about the possibility of locating some missile defense in Ukraine. That was (inaudible). Is that a possibility (inaudible), or did he misspeak?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, I think there was a misquote of Assistant Secretary of Defense Vershbow. There was a reference – I don’t want to repeat the misquote, but I believe they suggested somehow that he was talking about putting U.S. missile defense in Ukraine. And that’s not what he said. You can go and check what he did say.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) did you get any more (inaudible) working (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, as you know, the first flight in the (inaudible) transit took place last week, which we were very pleased with, because that is for us a real concrete example of the sort of practical cooperation we’re trying to bring about even, as I say, when we can disagree in other areas. It saves the United States money. It diversifies supply routes to Afghanistan. So she will want to review the now-functioning Afghan legal transit arrangement, find out how we can advance it and see if there are any (inaudible) anything that can be done to take even further advantage of the agreement (inaudible).

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, I mean, it is actually moving forward. It took a few months to get all of the details hammered out. We were pleased that we got to the point now that there are agreements on the (inaudible) flights and what they can contain and it’s underway now. So she’ll encourage further use of that mechanism.

QUESTION: Can you talk about how many flights – like what is the scale (inaudible) mechanism? And does it replace something you had before, or is it (inaudible) like that base in --



SENIOR STAFF DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s a different matter. I mean, both of those efforts – it’s not a base, but a transit center. Our efforts are designed to meet the same goals, diversifying supply to Afghanistan. So we were able to use – or have been able to use for a long time the Manas Air Base, but that’s just one, and Afghanistan is a landlocked difficult country. It’s very difficult to access. To be able to fly across Russian territory is a significant benefit in saving money. As I say, the – I believe that the estimates are up to $135 million of fuel costs saved, depending on how many flights you --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Per year. Yeah, depending on how many flights you end up taking. So that’s significant. And we want as many different options as we can for supplying Afghanistan.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible) hope to get on Iran? (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, you heard in New York the Russians and the rest of the P-5+1 issued a statement underscoring the seriousness with which we take the current situation in Iran. And President Medvedev in New York underscored that sometimes sanctions are inevitable. You know the U.S. view is that we want to resolve this through the negotiations, the talks that are underway. But if Iran fails to live up to its obligations, the Security Council resolutions and to the international community and the IAEA, then we think that there needs to be an additional pressure on Iran. And the Secretary will want to speak with Foreign Minister Lavrov and President Medvedev about what specific forms of pressure Russia would be prepared to join us and our other allies in if Iran fails to live up to its obligations.

And I’m just going to add, as you know, out of Geneva was an announcement of a plan by which Iran would ship its uranium to Russia in order to turn it into fuel and send it back to Iran. And we’ll want to go through that with the Russians to make sure that that moves forward, because that would be an important benefit to us to get the uranium – the low-enriched uranium out of Iran.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, I think it would be a meeting of the minds on how we move forward if Iran fails to live up to its obligations, and that there are different forms of pressure that we’ve talked about, including sanctions, and there is the issue of the UN Security Council resolutions, and Russia will be key to all of that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) U.S. feels that Russia is (inaudible) that option?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It did seem to be a signal. I mean, the words are the words. I mean, often in the past, Russia has been very skeptical about the effects of (inaudible) sanctions. But for the Russian president to say that sometimes they’re inevitable underscores what we believe. We don’t – nobody believes that sanctions are an optimal outcome. We would rather avoid that and deal with the nuclear issue. But that did seem to be a step in the direction of agreeing with us and others that if Iran doesn’t comply, that there needs to be some consequences.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) it sounds like they’re ready to, you know, go along with you on sanctions (inaudible). And the Iranians buy themselves some time, and the Russians say, oh, well, now we have to wait (inaudible).

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, but it does move forward. And over the years, there have been several Chapter 7 Security Council resolutions on Iran that the Russians participated in. And it is right that the process hasn’t gone as quickly as we would like (inaudible). But it is important to keep them along (inaudible) the more united the international community is (inaudible) put pressure, the more likely pressure on Iran (inaudible).

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Certainly. I think it’s an accumulation of factors and Iran’s ongoing (inaudible) to comply with (inaudible) resolutions and to accept what we consider to be a reasonable offer to allow Iran to have a civil nuclear energy program, as long as it reassures the international community that it doesn't have a nuclear weapons program. And that – the accumulation of that, plus the most recent evidence that Iran had a covert enrichment program, which (inaudible) difficult to explain other than part of a potential nuclear weapons program, I think that helped the Russians along as well. And I would just also note that the post-election violence by the regime in Iran has, I think, further contributed to the international community’s resolve in dealing with this issue.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes, I’ll just add that Prime Minister Putin had a long-scheduled trip to China that was on his schedule when our schedule was made.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The meeting of the Binational Commission? You mean this visit?



QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: What I do know is these people’s schedules are enormously complicated, and to find dates that work for the Secretary of State and the Russian foreign minister and the Russian president and the Russian prime minister is never an easy thing. So I’m not –

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, we’re not reading anything into that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) with him not there, are you confident that what you hear from Medvedev on sanctions sort of is the real deal because, you know, there’s a little difference in tone between the two of them on this.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: As the President said in Moscow in July, we deal with the government and its structures. And the Secretary is going to see the foreign minister, who’s responsible for foreign policy, and the president is also responsible for foreign policy. The Russian prime minister plays an important role as well. But I think when Russia’s president and foreign minister articulate a position, we consider that to be the position of the Russian Federation.

QUESTION: Lavrov’s not exactly on the same page (inaudible) the strongest comment from Medvedev – I mean, I don’t think I’ve seen Lavrov (inaudible) that sort of (inaudible).

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I’ll leave it to you to parse different statements by different people. We’ll see. As I say, we’ll have conversations – the Secretary will have conversations with the president of Russia and the foreign minister, and they’ve made public comments as well. And we’ll take that to be the position of the Russian Government.

QUESTION: (Inaudible), right?


QUESTION: The reset button.


QUESTION: Like some of the positives on the U.S. side would be the overflights to Afghanistan.


QUESTION: I don’t know. (Inaudible.) What do you think are the sort of challenges that you have to still face (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I would put a number of things in the positive category. The progress on START, I think both sides have committed to success. Afghan legal transit. We’ve restarted a military-to-military relationship under (inaudible). The Bilateral Presidential Commission up and running in all of these different areas. These are some of the ways in which the reset, if you want to call it that, is moving forward. But as we said at the time – as the President said at the time, we never thought that that would mean that differences would go away. And we still have differences on Georgia. We still have differences on NATO. We still have differences even on some of the areas that we are working together on, including Iran. And that’s cause for further discussion. But the hope is that we can have frank discussions of these areas of common interest and a better – and a better and more trustful spirit then maybe at times in the past.

QUESTION: When you were – when you were in China, the Secretary’s explanation really was we know what they’re going to say. (Inaudible.) Do you support human rights (inaudible)? Now, how does that compare with what Russia (inaudible) hear the same thing from Russia (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I mentioned that she would have a meeting with Russian civil society groups. And the purpose of that meeting is to hear from them what they think the human rights and democracy situation is in Russia and to express her interest in those areas and the interests of the United States. And so she’ll want to hear from these people directly about their concerns and about the ways the United States can help.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s right. Which Mike McFaul (inaudible) working group in the Bilateral Presidential Commission, there’s a working group on civil society chaired by NSC Senior Director Mike McFaul. He’s in Moscow now and launched that working group or had his working group, I believe, today.

QUESTION: When she talks to the president, is she going to bring up these journalists? (Inaudible) issued a very strong statement (inaudible).

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I expect she will. As you say, she did issue a very strong statement this week to underscore our concern about those issues, particularly the murders of journalists that haven’t been accounted for. And I suspect she’ll raise this in private (inaudible).

QUESTION: (Inaudible) what happened the last time (inaudible) the Secretary of State (inaudible)?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Are you at all concerned (inaudible)? (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: You know, I’m not sure what the – I’m sure there’ll be a camera spray. Yeah, they probably will.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Different president, different secretary. Yeah.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: (Inaudible) as a sign that the president wants to have a relaxed, open discussion with the Secretary. We have no reason at all to believe anything else.

QUESTION: Well, I don’t want to go into ancient history of two days ago, but can we say that Lavrov actually worked with her on that – on the deal on Turkey and Armenia? What was his role in there with her?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes. (Inaudible) about the Secretary’s role in putting that together (inaudible). For a time, the foreign ministers were all in different places.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So everybody was (inaudible). But by the end of the evening, all of the foreign ministers were together and ultimately took the same view that the signing should go ahead and encouraging the parties to do so. And he was supportive of that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) together, running back and forth?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: During that three-hour period, they were many different configurations of diplomats. There wasn’t one place. At different times, people were in different rooms.

QUESTION: But were the Russians (inaudible)?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: In other words (inaudible) with Armenia, with Russian influence on Armenia? Did they use their influence with the Armenians?

QUESTION: That’s what I’m trying to figure out.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes, the Russians played a helpful role there. I think it is fair to say that because of the different configurations, the Secretary was particularly involved. But all of the others, including the Russians, later on.

PRN: 2009/T13-14

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