MODERATOR: So this – the purpose of this backgrounder is just to tick through NATO and what – the purposes going in and answer your questions. [Senior State Department Official] will be here forth as a – from here forward as a Senior State Department Official, do a quick opening, and then take your questions.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Hi, good morning. Welcome to sunny Brussels. Believe it or not, we’ve had sun, like, for four days in a row. Still cold.
QUESTION: Hi, [Senior State Department Official].
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: How are you? Quickly, to run through the meeting: I guess, of course, it’s the first ministerial meeting of Secretary Kerry; indeed, it’s the first – it’s not the first, it’s the first foreign ministerial of the second term, too, but not the first foreign ministerial President Obama’s reelection, because we had one in December.
I think it’s a good opportunity for the Secretary to sit down for the first time with his 27 colleagues at NATO to go over the main issues, of which sort of three stand out as the focus for the one day tomorrow. Number one, of course, is Syria, specifically the Middle East, North Africa more generally.
We wanted, and the Secretary really wanted to have an opportunity to have a broad-based discussion with his colleagues about the situation in Syria, about the Middle East generally, and North Africa – not necessarily, or in fact not anticipated to make decisions with operational consequences with regard to what’s going on in this part of the world, but to have an opportunity to discuss the major security challenges that each and every one of us face, an opportunity for countries to share information, to share ideas as best they can. After all, NATO does remain the only forum in which the United States, Canada, and its European allies get together and have an opportunity to discuss major security issues.
And we’ve discussed Syria from the very beginning. There are sometimes a sense that we can’t discuss these issues for fear that countries or folks will believe that therefore we are immediately launching a major military campaign. From the Secretary’s point of view, from our point of view, we would like to have the opportunity to discuss security issues without necessarily assuming that there will be an immediate military operational consequence to that. So that’s the focus of the – one focus.
Second is Russia. This will be an opportunity for Minister Lavrov to come – and Secretary Kerry to share their sense of where the relationship bilaterally and within the NATO-Russia context is following NSA Donilon’s visit to Russia last week. As you know, out of that visit there was an agreement to intensify our engagement at a variety of different levels, including at the highest level, and a willingness to have a broad-based discussion from trade and investment to the strategic issues, including missile defense issues that have long dominated our discussions, and with regard to missile defense, have for the last few years blocked much progress on the strategic issues.
I think allies will be very interested to see how the Secretary sees the future of the relationship bilaterally and how it plays out within the NATO-Russia context, and they will be even more interested to hear what Minister Lavrov has to say on that.
The final issue: Afghanistan, where we are on the cusp of the milestone in which Afghanistan will take responsibility for security throughout Afghanistan, a point at which the NATO mission, longstanding NATO mission, will shift from combat to support. That should happen this spring, in the not-too-distant future. We’ll have a discussion about that, we’ll have a discussion about how the alliance is preparing for shifting, not only the mission from combat to support, but ending the current mission and thinking about the mission that will follow in early 2015 to train, advise, and assist Afghan forces as they have taken over full responsibility for security throughout the country.
So we’ll have a discussion on that, about the mechanism for ensuring that funds for the ANSF, the Afghan National Security Forces, are provided in the way we promised in Chicago, the $4.1 billion that we were going to provide in each of the next three years, from 2015, ’16, and ’17; what the nature of the mission in the train, advise, and assist mission is going to be; and how we can assure that there will be an enduring partnership between NATO and Afghanistan that endures well beyond our military presence in the country.
So those are just the three top issues – Syria, Russia, Afghanistan, as well as, as I said at the outset, an opportunity for the Secretary to have his first real discussion with his NATO colleagues on the security issues of the day.
So let me leave it at that and just open it up for your questions.
QUESTION: Can we have a – talk about the first thing you mentioned, Syria. To your knowledge, is Turkey coming with any new request or any – will there be any discussion about any change of the Patriots and their positioning?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The Secretary will actually brief ministers on the deployment and where we are. When we made the decisions to deploy the Patriots in defensive – to bolster the air defense of Turkey, there was a requirement for the Secretary to report periodically to the North Atlantic Council. So this is his opportunity to do so.
I think the Turks are very happy and pleased with the deployment and how it has evolved. We now have six batteries around three cities, a German, a Dutch, and a U.S. battery. I don’t – there’s been no indication that they’re coming for anything new or anything different. In many ways, these capabilities are there to protect Turkey against the possibility of a ballistic missile attack against their territory. They are purely defensive. They are not meant to provide any effect inside Syria, other than a deterrent effect not to attack Turkey, which is what this alliance is all about. So I think it’s a general discussion with no change or different --
QUESTION: Is there going to be any discussion about putting them in Jordan? There’s been some kind of just --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. I mean, then – so they’re deployed in Turkey for the defense of Turkey because Turkey is a NATO member. And as long as they are (inaudible) NATO member, that’s where they will be for the defense of Turkey. They couldn’t be moved without --
QUESTION: Just to follow up on Karen’s question. If – I understand the concept, the mandate, the defensive use in Turkey. You know there have been people in the American Congress who have suggested they be used to – Carl Levin and others – to create a safe zone. If that was ever to be the case, apart from the technical challenges, what would have to happen at NATO? Would there have to be a new decision, a new mandate, a new – what would have to happen here on the part of the members? You can’t be shifting --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’m not supposed to answer hypotheticals, but I’ll go for the procedural issue, just as she put it. Two issues. First is these assets are nationally owned, so they’re owned by the United States, by Germany, and the Netherlands. And therefore a decision – it would need a national decision to use them in a different mode or to put them in a different place, and those will have to be purely national decisions. If you want to put them in a different context, whether it’s a no-fly zone or whatever, but with NATO blessing, you would have to have a NATO decision. And a NATO decision would be forthcoming only if the three main criteria that have been there since the Libya case had been there all along, a demonstrable need that the deployment of these assets would seek to effect, a sound legal basis, which most European countries interpret to mean a UN Security Council resolution, and third, regional support, support of the region, so there would have to actually be a call from the region to do this.
We’ve never gotten to this point in the discussion yet, because there is a recognition that there is no UN Security Council resolution to do that. But it would require a decision by NATO to do so and then agreement by the deploying countries to provide the assets. Getting the Dutch and the Germans, let alone the United States, to agree to do that would, in and of itself, be a hurdle that is quite significant to overcome.
QUESTION: Can I ask you, NATO is – most members are EU members. Does NATO as a bloc have a position on the embargo?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. Because of that.
QUESTION: And will it ever?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No.
QUESTION: So it’s something that main elements (inaudible) to the EU?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Correct.
QUESTION: But does that come up at all?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It hasn’t come up so far. I don't know what is going to happen tomorrow.
QUESTION: I don’t mean – no. I don’t mean the context of NATO just making a decision to support or oppose, I mean just in terms of whether it helps or hinders or whether – is this something that you and your colleagues say boy, wouldn’t it be easier if – or wouldn’t it be more difficult if?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So far, in part because there isn’t a country that so far has formally taken the position that lifting the arms embargo is a good idea, we haven’t had that discussion yet in those terms. I mean, the real discussion at NATO is – that takes place is really a nonoperational discussion. It’s more this is what we’re doing. Here’s how we’re seeing this situation evolving.
QUESTION: But it has to be in a – when you say that this is how we see the situation evolving, it must be – even if it’s not operational in the sense of okay, we’re going to do this, when you see the situation evolving there must be a “this is how we see the situation evolving and this is how we feel we may need to respond as we move forward.”
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think individually countries share their views about that, but not as a means to a collective action, because there is nobody who is thinking we need to move collectively within NATO on the military front, which is the only front we move into. It’s not a political one for us to do so.
QUESTION: So in terms of Syria, in fact tomorrow the main thing, other than just kind of back without ideas and thoughts (inaudible) would be the (inaudible) report on the Patriots. Is that correct?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. Yes. But the batting of ideas around, to be fair, includes the sharing of information about the kinds of discussions that’s going on in smaller groups. So you all just came from Istanbul. Not every NATO foreign minister was there, but many NATO foreign ministers will want to know and have some sense of what was the discussion like, where was it going. They would want to hear from Foreign Minister Davutoglu about how he sees the situation on his border. Does he see an increasing risk or not. So that’s not an unimportant part of why we are an alliance and why we are together. But in terms of the operational piece, it’s the report, which I expect to be quite routine.
QUESTION: Routine. They haven’t --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Things are --
QUESTION: -- been used.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They haven’t been used because there has been no missile that has come into the airspace of Turkey.
QUESTION: Can you address – if everyone’s finished with Syria, can you address Afghanistan and what – explain a little more of what the issues are and what the thinking is on 2015 and --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So, I mean, the issues --
QUESTION: -- and what’s going to happen here on that, recognizing they’re not going to make decisions at this point?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, we made the big – the last big decision we made on 2015 came in February when the defense ministers agreed that NATO military planners should think about a force that is no greater than 8-12,000 for the train, advise, and assist mission. That effort is currently underway. They have not come back yet.
QUESTION: That’s a total force, U.S. plus all NATO members?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Total NATO force for the train, advise, and assist mission.
QUESTION: Not including the USCT.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Not including the U.S. – whatever the U.S. is going to do bilaterally outside of the NATO context, right, as a planning assumption as opposed to anything else. That – so that analysis is still ongoing, and I don’t expect it to hit Brussels until sometime next month at the earliest.
So the issues here are going to be on the more political and legal side of the issues. First on the political side, we all agreed that NATO and its ISAF partners would provide significant financial assistance to the Afghan national security force. And the question is how is that financial assistance going to be best disbursed to the Afghans in a way that is – ensures accountability and transparency. The United States has long acted as a depository, and a repository, for that money, and we’re going to look at how the U.S. role might evolve as far as money for the army is concerned.
Secondly, there’s the issue of the legal status. As you know, the United States is engaged in a bilateral negotiation for a bilateral security agreement with Afghanistan. Allies and partners with forces in Afghanistan who will have forces in Afghanistan post-2014 are very interested in that negotiation because the conclusion of the immunities issue, the jurisdiction issue, status of forces issues reached in the bilateral agreement are going to be transferred into the NATO-Afghan standing – Status of Forces Agreement. And there is interest in making sure that that – that both the bilateral and the NATO-Afghan SOFA gets completed as soon as possible.
You may have noticed that the Germans made an announcement on their post-2014 presence, between 6- and 800, that there would be the framework nation up in the north, but they conditioned that on the successful conclusion of a NATO-Afghan SOFA agreement. So there will be some discussion about where that is, and allies will want to know our perspective of how it’s moving forward, and they will want to know from Foreign Minister Rassoul, who will be at the meeting, how he sees this evolving.
So I think those are the two big pieces. The third piece is the troop mission numbers issue, which we discussed last in February, and I don’t think we’re going to get into any details here.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. Are there parallel negotiations going on, or is NATO basically just waiting for the U.S. (inaudible) --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The latter.
QUESTION: -- just copy it --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The latter.
QUESTION: -- cut and paste the same agreement into --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The latter.
QUESTION: Is there any possibility – you mentioned Foreign Minister Rassoul. Is there any possibility of any higher-level representation – Afghanistan?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Foreign Minister Rassoul is coming.
QUESTION: Not even Karzai or anything?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Foreign Minister Rassoul will be there. He’s invited to the meeting.
QUESTION: That wasn’t what he asked. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: And so Karzai may or may not be here, basically? Or you’re still waiting on that?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: He’s not going to – the only Afghan coming to the NATO meeting is Foreign Minister Rassoul.
QUESTION: What about after the NATO meeting?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’ll leave that to others to decide.
QUESTION: What are the other possibilities --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I only do NATO here. So, good thing.
QUESTION: But could the U.S., who’s acting as the repository for the money --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- what are the other – what are the alternative possibilities if NATO ministers don’t want to do it that way anymore?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I think we will have agreement for – to do it through to NATO – to use the U.S. mechanism, because it’s the easiest and best way forward. Part of the reason is it’s very hard to figure out how else you do it. You need to set up some trust fund that has to be managed by somebody. None of the international organizations around the world have said, “We’ll do it.” NATO has basically said, “Well, in NATO we do it by using the U.S.” That’s how we’ve done it in the past, so I think that’s where we’re going to end up in the future.
The money will be split. This is only money for the support of the Afghan National Security Force. The U.S.-managed money will be for the army. The money for the police force has long been handled by the United Nations in what is called LOTFA – the Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan – LOTFA. And a similar kind of trust fund will continue to exist afterwards. So those who want to use development assistance and not give it to the Defense Department, for example, in order to support police – like the Japanese, who’ve long paid the salaries of all police – they will go through that second.
QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit about the Russians? Is this a formal meeting of the U.S.-Russia Council?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The NATO-Russia Council.
QUESTION: The NATO-Russia Council.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, it is a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council. Whether it’s formal or informal, I don’t – we kind of abandoned the formal/informal. If we want to make decisions, we can make decisions; put it that way. But – so it is a meeting with Lavrov and the 28, so all 29 countries, all 29 foreign ministers will meet tomorrow morning.
QUESTION: And separately, there’ll be separate bilateral discussions with U.S. (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There will be a U.S. – a bilateral discussion with Lavrov. Lavrov always sees Rasmussen when he’s here, the Secretary General. So (inaudible).
QUESTION: Does – and do you expect the other NATO ministers to gang up on Lavrov over the Syria issue? Do you (inaudible) --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: These are very diplomatic meetings, where --
QUESTION: Well, I know.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think you will – certainly nations will express their hope that a more constructive attitude might be coming – forthcoming, but --
QUESTION: Well, are there any members of NATO who aren’t on board with that? Are there any NATO --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. No, no.
QUESTION: -- who think the Russians (inaudible)? No?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. There’s – in that sense, there is a view among the 28 NATO nations --
QUESTION: So (inaudible) although diplomatically he’ll be browbeaten.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, it’s – we will see how hard and strong they want to make that the issue.
QUESTION: But you said that – I’m sorry. Could you expand on that? There is a view among the 28 nations what?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: What, that Russia could, through a more positive diplomatic stance within the UN Security Council, could help the process more.
QUESTION: Because this is really the only --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I mean, there’s a disagreement between NATO and Russia on how to move forward on Syria. That should not – that’s not news. And that’s – but all 28 agree on that.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And I’m sure that a number – not all will speak, but a number – that anybody who will speak will mention that they would like to see greater cooperation on this issue.
QUESTION: All right. And is there any sympathy for the Russian position within NATO on this (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. Oh, on missile defense?
QUESTION: Wait. Wait.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. But (inaudible).
QUESTION: So, on the two big issues --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No.
QUESTION: -- they’re completely at odds.
QUESTION: Could we stay on the Syria piece? First of all, this is really the only international – because you’re having this whole separate kind of Friends of Syria process, but this is really the only – aside from the UN Security Council, which they aren’t doing anything, but this is really the only place for Lavrov to be heard and to hear from a lot of the countries involved on this. And when you say there’s a view among the 28 nations that Russia could be more helpful diplomatic stance, do you mean in a NATO context, or you just mean in the --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. Within – in the general context, particularly in the UN Security Council. I would argue that this isn’t the forum; it is really the UN Security Council where they hear, and they hear it from everybody bilaterally. But, I mean, this is Syria. The disagreement on --
QUESTION: But he’s not – but Lavrov’s not traveling to the UN very often for, like, meeting.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. The disagreement on Syria has been there all along, and it continues.
QUESTION: But you also said earlier – and I’m not trying to push you into some, like, (inaudible), but I’m just saying, like, there is a cognizance that you’re not doing anything without any kind of UN impetur. So do you see any lack of UN legal cover as what’s really holding NATO back, or more of the political decisions that nations would have to face in order to – like, is this --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t think this is very hard to disentangle. I don’t think – it would be a wrong impression to say that but for the UN Security Council, everybody would be running around doing things. So I think it – there is – in terms of how to move forward on Syria, there are various views within this alliance, as indeed there are various views within governments. If you – and that’s a real big if – if you were to do something more on the military side affecting Syria, most allies would think you need a UN Security Council resolution to do that. That’s how I’d phrase it.
QUESTION: Just a quick – forgive my ignorance, but how often is this NATO-Russia Council meeting – when’s the last time it’s met? Was it after --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So the NATO-Russian Council, at ambassadorial level, meets once a month. And it has now – virtually every foreign ministerial since --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, there was – we stopped the – after the Georgia war, stopped for about 18 months. But since then, almost every foreign ministerial, Lavrov has been there. So he was there in – there have been some exceptions. Those are the foreign ministerials prior to summits. There have been 28 only, so you brought together the foreign and defense ministers, and then nobody else came. But – so it’s been quite regular.
QUESTION: And could you just sort of fill us in on where we stand on missile defense, both as an alliance but also vis-a-vis the Russians?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So on March 15th, Secretary Hagel announced that because of the changing assessment of the threat, most particularly with regard to North Korea, but also because of funding decisions by the Congress and technological development issues, we were going to first accelerate and – not accelerate, wrong word, for – we’re going to deploy additional missiles in – for Greely, Alaska in order to deal with the rapidly growing threat from North Korea. And at the same time, to restructure the – what was known as the fourth phase of the European Phased Adaptive Approach, and the fourth phase was the development of a new missile, the SM32B, marked 2B, that would be deployed both on land and on ships, and would have had a faster velocity necessary to defend the United States from intercontinental ballistic missiles coming primarily from the Middle East, and ultimately deployed in other places in Asia.
So the cancelation of phase four had no immediate impact – in fact, had no impact on the U.S. commitment to defend all of NATO Europe, which it was going to do through phases 1, 2, and 3. So the allies have basically reacted to this announcement that it is really up to the United States to decide how it wants to defend the United States against the threats that it sees for itself, and that they were reassured that that decision had no impact on the ability of the United States to fulfill its commitment to defend NATO Europe.
At the same time, it was phase four that the Russians were most concerned about, and therefore its cancelation of this phase led some allies to hope that perhaps the impasse that we had reached on missile defense with the Russians would be broken, and indeed, this will be the first formal time in which the Russians come to NATO at this level, and which they can let us know what they think.
QUESTION: Could you remind us why the Russians were so concerned with phase four?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Their argument was that those missiles were capable of intercepting Russian strategic missiles directed against --
QUESTION: The ones in Alaska?
QUESTION: No, no, (inaudible).
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Against the United States, against the United States.
QUESTION: Oh, the --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They were going to be deployed --
QUESTION: In Europe?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- in Europe and on ships. That was their argument. We of course – we never agreed with that --
QUESTION: That would upset the balance.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- and therefore would upset the strategic balance.
QUESTION: Upset the balance, and you said that was never what it was for.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Not only was it never for, it was technically not possible. So we had a fundamental disagreement both on the technology piece, which now should be easier because there’s no missile there, and secondly, we made very clear that we are not interested in defending the United States or indeed NATO Europe against a deliberate Russian attack. It’s not about – this is not a defense against Russia or its strategic missiles. It’s --
QUESTION: Does that mean (inaudible) a missile is launched from Russia someplace, you’re not going to take it down?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Frankly, the technology of missile defense isn’t good enough to deal with the sophisticated missiles that the Russians have.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’ll leave to the military commanders to decide how to deal with that. But that’s not why we’re deploying these missiles, which are really about third state, other states, Iran in particular.
QUESTION: Have the Russians reacted formally in other context (inaudible) the cancelation of phase four?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They’ve not formally reacted. We’ve had various discussions. I think Donilon had discussions with them, and their reaction is that at least they’re willing to talk to us and have a – continue to – not that they have not been willing to talk before, but they are interested in this topic as an issue for discussion bilaterally, and I assume ultimately in the NATO-Russia context. We’ve been talking with them about this for quite a while now.
QUESTION: So is there any change in their position that you’ve discerned?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Not yet.
QUESTION: In fact --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They’re still studying it and the implications, and they haven’t really given us a formal response.
QUESTION: But the informal indications are there’s still --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There’s still work.
QUESTION: -- mad about the whole subject and they’re not showing any signs to you of being cooperative.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We’ll have to see. Time will tell. And we’re – we will have plenty of opportunity to discuss the implications and to find ways to get there, and we’ll see how they react.
QUESTION: And what would be the implications of them being more cooperative? I mean, what would (inaudible) from that if they --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Recall that when NATO made the decision to move ahead with this project when it – in November 2010, that Lisbon decided to make territorial missile defense a mission, a task for NATO to take on, that we also offered to cooperate with the Russians on that. And initial indications were the Russians were interested and willing to do so, and we haven’t been able --
QUESTION: Were – I’m sorry, were or were not?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They were. Since then, we have been trying to figure out how to do that, and they have basically said until you give us legal guarantees that these – backed up by legally binding criteria that would limit these defenses in ways that would not pose a danger to their deterrent, they’re not willing to talk to us. We have said we’re not interested – the United States – in negotiating limits on our missile defense that have nothing to do with Russia and indeed have to do with another threat. You wouldn’t negotiate the limitations on military equipment or military capability meant to deal with threat A with nation B.
QUESTION: Yeah. Well, the other implication – I mean, what – so who cares if they don’t (inaudible) or don’t (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I mean, so we move forward, and in that sense there is no direct implication. It is, however, true, first, if you don’t have this irritant in the relationship that you can have cooperation on other matters, including, importantly, on further reductions in nuclear forces, which is one thing we would like to see, perhaps moving forward on arms control on conventional weapons, which have been stalled for about a decade now.
Secondly, there’s no doubt that Russians have ballistic missile defense capability, that if – and therefore if we decided to cooperate, the effectiveness of missile defense against the threats that we’re dealing with, both of Russia and of NATO, would be increased. They have radars whose data would be useful if – for our defense, and frankly they have – we have radars who will be useful for their defense, so cooperation should be a win-win situation if and when they decide that that’s the path they want to go into.
QUESTION: When you mentioned that some (inaudible) allies hope that the impasse could be broken, do you see any possibility at all of any breakthrough at this meeting?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We’ll have to – we have had no indications, she said, that there – that they have seen that they have reacted to the decisions in ways that would change their attitude. That said, we would all – we are engaged – we’re interested in engaging them on the merits of the issues with the hope that we will find a way to cooperate.
QUESTION: Didn’t Tom Donilon bring this up with them and try to get a positive response when he was in Moscow?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: He did, and he put – he had an intensive discussion in which they were more in a listening mode than in an active engagement mode. Which is – we didn’t expect them to have a negotiation there. We expected them to be open to a discussion, and indeed they were and are.
QUESTION: What were they listening to?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Whatever Tom Donilon was presenting them with.
QUESTION: What was he presenting?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: You should ask him, because I wasn’t there.
QUESTION: So do you expect there to be any kind of takeaway from this meeting?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: This one?
QUESTION: Either the NATO-Russia or just the NATO (inaudible).
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, I mean, I think there’s no big decisions that are awaiting the input from ministers. So I think the – it’s the reaffirmation of where we are on a whole host of issues, and hopefully on Syria and others, a strengthening of the sense of where we are and where we need to go.
QUESTION: Is there a summit this year?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There is nothing planned.
QUESTION: But when you say – I just want to come back --
QUESTION: Next year?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There’s no – the next summit has not been decided and/or announced.
QUESTION: They usually are (inaudible).
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They’re usually about every other – every two years, so that would get you sometime in the spring of 2014.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Rasmussen --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It goes up and down.
QUESTION: In June, possibly?
QUESTION: Is there some kind of – is that unusual, for there not to be one (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s getting a little late. I mean, there was a – countries were looking into the possibility of a leaders meeting – so that’s not quite a summit – possibly in this year in Brussels and for scheduling and other reasons, that’s not going to happen.
QUESTION: Is there a problem? Are there –
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. There’s no problem.
QUESTION: They just don’t like each other.
QUESTION: They don’t like each other.
QUESTION: They only want to see each other once every two years. (Laughter.)
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Part of the issue is that summits have become extremely costly for host countries. And given the economic environment in which we confront --
QUESTION: Because of security?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Mostly because of security. But it’s just – these summits are no longer just – a NATO summit used to be 16 countries coming – leaders coming together. Now it’s 60 because of the Afghanistan piece and everything else. So there’s a reluctance to spend that kind of money.
QUESTION: I just – can we go back to Syria for a second, because I –
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There’s no there there.
QUESTION: There’s no there there, but you say, like, “We want to talk, we want to just get a sense.” But then you said, “where we need to go.” What does that mean?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Where we individually and collectively need to go in a nonoperational, nonmilitary sense.
QUESTION: Well, this is a security alliance.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, it’s a security alliance where you can discuss security issues without immediately having to decide that you’re going to use military force.
QUESTION: I’m not talking about military force. But you seem to be –
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: You’re reading more into my words than is warranted.
QUESTION: How we can sit back and do nothing while thousands of people have been slaughtered --
QUESTION: Well, is there some discussion about more operational support, or –
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No.
QUESTION: -- any intelligence?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No.
QUESTION: What about a post – if there were to be a post-Assad, if that day comes to pass, is there thinking and planning about a potential alliance, NATO role and treaty or –
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There’s no formal or even informal discussion of that within the alliance.
QUESTION: No stabilization force discussion?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There’s no formal or informal discussion about that. I mean, governments are – lots of people are thinking about lots of things. But within the NATO context at NATO, that’s not an issue for discussion today. And who knows what happens tomorrow.
QUESTION: You were saying no big decisions tomorrow, but it sounds like you are hoping that the Russians might give a positive signal on missile defense.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, no, I think --
QUESTION: Or is that not real?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, I think that would be probably too much. But --
QUESTION: You don’t – so you’re not expecting that tomorrow? You’re not looking forward –
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It would be – we would certainly welcome a Russian decision to say, “This is interesting; let’s continue to have a good conversation about how to move forward,” while reiterating – I would expect them to reiterate their standard line. They have agreed to intensify engagement with us bilaterally. We see that as a positive sign. They’re willing to talk. Maybe if we sit down and talk long enough, we can actually come to see the situation in the same way. We haven’t yet. It would be good if the more --
QUESTION: In what ways are they intensifying engagement?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They’ve agreed to have more meetings. More importantly, the President is going to meet Putin twice this year. And as you know, when you have summit meetings, that means there’s lots of other stuff going on and it’s in that sense that we are willing – we the United States are willing to, and the Russians are willing to have a, bilaterally, an intensified engagement. Everyone in NATO recognizes that the bilateral U.S.-Russian relationship drives the NATO-Russian relationship on these kinds of issues, for obvious reasons.
QUESTION: Have they – are they still talking about nuclear reductions, despite their unhappiness with the missile defense piece?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I mean, they – their stance has been that they don’t want to think about further nuclear reductions until the New START agreement is implemented and outstanding differences with respect to missile defense are addressed.
The President has announced a different perspective, and we’ve always had a different perspective. In the State of the Union, he says that we do look forward to further reductions. And that, too, will be part of the discussion we’ll continue to have with the Russians.
QUESTION: And their objection on missile defense does not apply to the earlier phases? I thought (inaudible).
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It depends on which Russian you talk to in one day, what day. But their big philosophical argument is that you’re asking us to cooperate on missile defense --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- but you’re going ahead with your own plans without having – giving us a chance to work with you and to give you input on that.
And phase three, which is the deployment of the system in Poland, is not welcomed either. Phase two, which is the deployment of the system in Romania, has had less direct comment, but that too was a problem. Even phase one, which was the deployment of the radar in Turkey and the presence of a Aegis ship in the Med, was not welcomed by them, even though it’s hard to argue that that constitutes a threat to their deterrent.
QUESTION: I’m sorry, what was phase three?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Phase three is the deployment of – in Poland.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Of interceptors?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Of interceptors. Phase one, Turkey and ship; phase two, interceptors in Romania; three, in Poland. And the quality of the interceptors will continue, in each of the phases, to increase.
QUESTION: But phase three was – you were saying that even though, philosophically, they have a problem with it, they knew that the ones in Poland were, like, nothing compared – like, were not a match for --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, no, they’re – they should know.
QUESTION: -- Russian strategic --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They should know. But there are folks in Russia who argue, “No, no, they’re a fundamental problem for our strategic deterrent.” But this has been a disagreement we’ve had with them on the technology --
QUESTION: But it was really phase four that was their main --
QUESTION: Well, what’s the U.S. military footprint in the whole of Romania for these phases?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: With these phases?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Very small.
QUESTION: But there’s something --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s an Aegis ashore, which is – so it’s two launchers.
QUESTION: But there’s – (inaudible) a permanent U.S. military presence in the whole of Romania?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There would then be a more permanent military presence in --
QUESTION: That’s their real (inaudible) military?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, just politics maybe.
QUESTION: But phase four was their main technical --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Their technical arguments tend to be about phase four.
QUESTION: And that was going to be – I’m sorry, one more time, that was going to be deployed --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s a bigger missile.
QUESTION: No, it was going to be deployed --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It was just a new missile.
QUESTION: Where is --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Deployed in all – every location, including, importantly, on the Aegis ships, which if you deployed them in certain locations, might be more --
QUESTION: They can move around?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They can move around. That’s the problem they can’t control. And you can’t tell an Aegis --
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) I have to say, I have some sympathy with the Russian argument. If they do – somehow, there is a missile launched from Russia, and there’s the possibility of one of these interceptors to take it down, I don’t think you can guarantee that you’re not going to try and use it, right. Can you?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: For it to really --
QUESTION: I mean, you say --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Let’s put it this way --
QUESTION: You can say all you want that it’s not aimed at Russia, that’s not what it’s intended to do, (inaudible).
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So they – and their militaries will have to make their judgment about what’s possible and what isn’t possible.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Our view is that their missiles are sufficiently sophisticated that they can spoof any missile defense that we deploy, and in any case, our missile defenses are so small in number and they’re not directed against – when you have, what is it, 31, and we’re going to go to 44 interceptors in Fort Greely, it’s really not designed to defend the United States against a deliberate Russian attack, and it’s pretty hard to argue that it is. But it is the kind of missile defense that you would need to deal with a pretty unsophisticated yet equally deadly threat from a country like North Korea or Iran.
QUESTION: Which Russia is not playing a constructive role in trying to help --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, I wouldn’t argue that. I think on Iran and North Korea, they are trying – they see the same problems as we do. They may have a slightly different view on the tactics to be employed, but I wouldn’t say that they’re unconstructive.
QUESTION: As you do Iran and North Korea (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Only in --
QUESTION: Outside of --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Only really in this context. I do remind my colleagues, European colleagues, that North Korea does pose a direct threat to the territory of NATO. It may not be the territory of NATO that they usually think about, but since the United States still is NATO territory.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) only comes in missile defense.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Only in that context.
PARTICIPANT: I think the [Senior State Department Official] (inaudible). I think you may have a (inaudible). There’s another question?
QUESTION: I think we’re good.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: All right.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you. I’m happy to oblige for another 74 days. I’m not counting. (Laughter.)