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Background Briefing on U.S.-Russia 2+2 Meeting Via Teleconference


Special Briefing
Senior Administration Officials
Washington, DC
August 9, 2013

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MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us. This call, as was stated, is to provide an overview of our meeting – our 2+2 meetings today with Russia. We have a couple of senior Administration officials who are joining us and may be speaking, but we’re going to provide an overview first. Again, this is for attribution to senior Administration officials, and then we will take questions.

I will turn it over to [Senior State Department Official One] now.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Great. I mean, just for the general background on the 2+2 and what it is, the presidents agreed when they met at the G-8 summit in Lough Erne to resuscitate the 2+2 format where foreign and defense ministers meet jointly. The last time we did this was in Moscow in March 2008. And the structure of the sessions today was four hours of meetings focused on strategic stability, missile defense, political-military cooperation, and regional security. And that included Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, and North Korea.

Secretary Hagel had a separate bilateral with his counterpart, and Secretary Kerry was – had a short separate conversation with Secretary – or Foreign Minister Lavrov. I would say that the tone of the meeting – of the whole set of meetings was positive and constructive throughout.

As you heard, as you would expect, I mean, Mr. Snowden was raised by Secretary Kerry, who reiterated our disappointment over Russians actions. But the issue did not dominate or overshadow the agenda. Instead, I think as both Secretaries Kerry and Hagel emphasized in their remarks in front of the press, I mean, both the U.S. and Russian delegations agreed on the importance of pragmatic cooperation and continuing efforts to move forward in those areas where we could advance mutual strategic interests. And they agreed that the 2+2 was a principal vehicle for doing so. So this was the first of what will be more meeting formats in – as this mechanism.

I’d like to turn now to my colleagues to discuss the military and the missile defense strategic stability, and I’ll jump in at the end on some of the regional security issues.

[Senior State Department Official Two]

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Thanks, [Senior State Department Official One]. So, Secretary Hagel and Minister Shoygu met for about an hour this morning before the 2+2, and essentially they agreed to move forward with military-to-military exercises, so to do more of them if possible and better ones – or more complex ones. And then they also agreed that they would establish a regular video link between themselves essentially to make sure that they had further communication not just at the staff level but at their level.

They – the Russians invited the United States to observe their major military exercise Zapad 2013, which is coming up. It’s an annual theater-level exercise. And they told us this – well, we knew it would be a joint Russia-Belarus exercise. They told us that it will be about 13,000 soldiers exercising at nine training ranges in those two countries.

So overall it was a constructive bilateral and it was the first occasion that the two gentlemen met face to face. And that’s all from DOD.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: [Senior Administration Official Three], do you want to do the missile defense and strategic stability?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: Yes, I’ll just say a few words. I wanted to back up the point that [Senior Administration Official One] began with. It struck me that the good working relationships among all the principles for one thing, but also among their deputies at the working level, were evident throughout this meeting. There was really a great deal of pragmatic interaction throughout the course of the day. And I would say the consensus, clear consensus, was that pragmatic cooperation is the best way to move forward at this point.

The ministers agreed to look for ways to work together on missile defense, missile defense cooperation, and to explore the possibilities of further nuclear reductions. So that, I think, was a good outcome from the perspective of our next steps and what we need to be doing on the strategic stability front.

They also agreed to continue bilateral and multilateral cooperation on outer space, based on common interest in long-term sustainability for space operations. So that was an additional emphasis of the kind of strategic stability part of the discussion.

MODERATOR: Great –

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: And then if – let me try just to do the lunchtime session.

MODERATOR: Oh, absolutely. Please do. Please do.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Over lunch then the delegations discussed regional security issues. And on Syria, I think both sides agreed that they remain committed to holding a Geneva 2 conference as early as is practically possible, both stressing the belief that a political settlement is the only way to prevent sort of institutional collapse and further instability in Syria.

There was a conversation also about the deteriorating humanitarian situation on the ground, and the ministers agreed that their deputies or their ministry should follow up with discussions on how we can work more together to alleviate what is a growing humanitarian crisis.

On Afghanistan, the United States delegation of course expressed appreciation for the support that Russia has provided, whether it’s in the Northern Distribution Network or the assistance it has provided to the Afghan National Security Forces. Both delegations agreed on the importance of sustained support for Afghanistan’s security, as well as political and economic transition, and agreed that combatting narcotics was an area that we should look at and how we can better help the Government of Afghanistan in this area as well.

On Iran and North Korea, both delegations were focused on bringing both countries back to the negotiating table. On Iran, I think there was satisfaction with what has been sustained U.S.-Russian cooperation within the P-5+1 format, as well as agreement on the importance of moving quickly to engage the new Iranian Government. And on DPRK, I think we of course underscored the importance that the North Korean regime seriously demonstrate their commitment to denuclearization.

MODERATOR: Excellent. Thank you very much. I think we’re ready to move to questions.

OPERATOR: All right. Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen on the phone, if you would like to ask a question, please press * then 1. If you are using a speaker phone, please pick up the handset before pressing the numbers. Again, *, 1 to ask a question. And one moment please.

And our first question comes from Anne Gearan from the Washington Post. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks to everyone for doing the call. So, the Russian officials had a press conference just a little while ago, and made many of the same points that you all just did about the importance of cooperation overall and on many of the specific areas. But they also made a point of saying that they felt that the whole relationship had been sidetracked, if you will, by the Snowden case, and that cancelling the summit between the two presidents was a shortsighted response. Can you talk a bit about how much the cancelled summit overhung today’s discussions, and whether there was any specific discussion of its effect?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I would – I do not think that the Snowden affair colored the engagement in the 2+2. It was discussed at the outset. We have clear differences over Mr. Snowden’s status, which we have expressed both privately and there’s been public discussion of this as well. But the – what we were able to both agree on is the need to continue to move forward in the areas of mutual interest.

The – we – as the President emphasized publicly just a few moments ago, the summit and the decision to postpone the summit was not just about Mr. Snowden, and I think I’ve discussed this with some of you. I mean, as far as an assessment by the Administration of where we were in the broader relationship looking across very – a very ambitious agenda that we had set for ourself, and where our calculation and our assessment was that we had not achieved the progress that we needed that would justify bringing the presidents together for an extended period of time.

That said, we’re prepared to – we would like to hold a summit with Russia, but the substance needs to be there. And so this 2+2 mechanism is a way to move forward. It’s a way to make progress on that substance, and as [Senior Administration Official Three] explained, the fact that we have further directions from the ministers that the teams should continue to work and redouble their efforts, meet as soon possible, is positive.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MODERATOR: Great. We’re ready for the next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. And that comes from Nicole Gaouette from Bloomberg News. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks very much for doing this. Both sides have stressed that the tone of the talks was constructive and positive. And so some of the President’s comments seem a little discordant. I mean, his description of President Putin like a bored kid sitting in the back of the classroom, or of Putin’s, quote-unquote, “backwards thinking,” don’t seem very constructive or positive, and I’m wondering if you can explain the discordance there.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION ONE: I – I mean, I think the totality of the President’s remarks make it very clear that he’s prepared to engage with the Russians to advance a positive agenda. That’s what he did, that’s what the reset was about and what the accomplishments that were heralded which he iterated.

If you recall, his comments about Putin were in the context of, like, the press’s focus on body language, which he was taking issue with. Despite the body language, the President has candid, constructive, and often productive conversations with President Putin. But we are concerned by the anti-Americanism, and that’s the backward thinking. I would assume that is the reference the President was making, to anti-American rhetoric, which of course has a utility in domestic political – in domestic politics, but doesn’t help us move forward across a host of very challenging issues.

So I think the President captured the inherent tension in a relationship that is both competitive and cooperative, and our assessment was that the cooperative elements had not matured and had not produced the kinds of concrete accomplishments that we wanted to be able to showcase.

MODERATOR: Thank you. We’re ready for the next question.

OPERATOR: And that comes from Michael Gordon from the New York Times. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. You mentioned that both sides talked positively about holding Geneva 2 and the political solution. One of the reasons Geneva 2 is not being held yet is that the Russians have taken the position that Iran should attend, and the United States has objected to that and suggested that London 11 attend. Did you reach a resolution on who should attend Geneva 2, and particularly on the role of Iran, today? And if not, what progress did you make toward holding Geneva 2?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I mean, [Moderator], do you want to take this?

MODERATOR: Sure. So, Michael, obviously, as I believe was referenced in the beginning of the call, Syria and the agreement that Geneva is the appropriate venue for continuing the discussion on a political transition was a part of the conversation, and certainly part of what the Secretary was eager to discuss with the Foreign Minister. As you know, the discussion of attendees and participation is an issue that’s ongoing and one that also the UN will be involved in and engaged with. So we don’t have any further readout beyond that of the discussion between the two on that particular issue.

OPERATOR: Thank you. And now to the line of Paul Eckert from Reuters. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Oh, thanks. Yeah, I wanted to – sort of a follow Michael Gordon’s. The – what sort of concrete agreements were struck as far as the division of labor in trying to get the various factions in Syria and the government to Geneva in the near future?

MODERATOR: [Senior Administration Official One], is there anything else you wanted to add from --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I mean, I think that the division of labor remains the same. We continue to work very closely with the opposition; the Russians continue to work with the Syrian Government. The test is not whether the Syrian Government will come to Geneva; it’s whether the Syrian Government will come to Geneva prepared to negotiate the transition of full – the full executive powers to a transitioning governing body, and so I wouldn’t go beyond that.

MODERATOR: And I would just add one thing, which is, of course, since the Secretary and the Foreign Minister last spoke, the Secretary has met with the new president of the SOC in person, and certainly discussion of their efforts to strengthen their leadership and strengthen and expand membership is something that he provided an update on to the Foreign Minister and their own commitment to attending Geneva in the future.

OPERATOR: Thank you. And now to the line of Margaret Warner from the PBS NewsHour. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hello, everyone. Thanks for doing this. I was also just as the Russian press conference. Did you feel you got a real response, an official response, to President Obama’s letter of – in April to President Putin about further arms reductions and a new way forward, perhaps, on reaching some accommodation on missile defense? In other words, are you any farther along after today’s meetings on reaching some accommodation on those issues than you were before?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: Margaret, this is [Senior Administration Official Three]. I too heard part of what the minister – Minister of Defense Shoygu had to say during the press conference. And I thought his remarks were very good in capturing the essence of what we heard from the Russians this time. He said we hear each other on missile defense, we need to do regular meetings, we hope the U.S. will accommodate our concerns, but we’re at a good stage of dialogue. And frankly, I took that as a very, very positive signal.

Did they respond yet? No, we’re still asking them for the full-up response to the proposal that we made when we went – and I was on that team that went with Tom Donilon in April. So we’re still waiting for their formal counterproposal, but they are evidently working it, and they are ready to engage us intensively on it. So I thought that that was a positive development.

If I may just – I will hazard the comment, Shoygu said we hear each other on missile defense. I thought that was a very good comment. I think now we have to start listening to each other on missile defense.

OPERATOR: Thank you. And now to the line of Dimitry Kirsanov from ITAR-TASS. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you very much for doing this call. I wanted to ask about the 2+2 mechanism. Lavrov – Minister Lavrov said that both sides agreed to have regular meetings going further. How often do you plan to convene these meetings? And would it be taking turns in Moscow and Washington, D.C.? That’s first question.

And secondly, I was wondering if you could help me to square those two things. I mean, both sides right now are speaking about moving forward, talking about how positive and constructive the 2+2 has been. But the President is – I mean, President Obama is saying that the United States Government is basically – has to hit the pause button to reassess the whole relationship with Russia. I just can’t square those two things together.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: There was agreement on the importance of the 2+2 channel. We did not, at this time, nail down when a follow-on session would take place. I think in a perfect world, it builds from the progress that’s made at lower levels. And so the teams both at the State Department and at the Department of Defense have been empowered again to work with our counterparts, their Russian counterparts, and we’ll see what kind of progress is made. In the past, we’ve alternated, and so – but the modalities of next steps and when to schedule didn’t come at this time.

I don’t see a contradiction between having a session where there’s sort of a pragmatic and constructive tone as we work through a set of issues that are very important to both countries. And the President’s comment that we need to assess where we are in the broader relationship, the broader relationship includes issues beyond the agenda that was on the ministers’ plate today. And the broader relationship also requires us to see whether we’ve made the kind of progress that rises to the level of the presidents to hold a bilateral summit.

So we’ve talked about this before. This is a – this is not an ally relationship; this is a relationship where we have real areas of overlapping interests at the same time that we have real challenges where we disagree and disagree strongly. And trying to make the progress that is able to demonstrate both to our own publics as well as to the international community the value of the U.S.-Russian partnership is our goal, and certainly a goal for a summit.

OPERATOR: Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you. We have time for two more questions.

OPERATOR: And the first one comes from Josh Rogin from The Daily Beast. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks, guys. Just a little bit more on Snowden. It seems like both sides are saying it really wasn’t discussed in detail. I’m wondering if that’s a correct characterization. Was there any discussion at all of how to maybe convince or negotiate or persuade the Russians to change their mind on the decision to grant Snowden asylum, or have we just moved on and that’s just going to be the way it is? Can you please go into a little bit more detail about the conversation over that issue? Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: It was – our differing assessments of Snowden were aired, but this was not discussed in detail in part because the channel for communicating and for engaging the Russians on Mr. Snowden has been through law enforcement channels, where both sides agree it’s the appropriate place to have those conversations.

MODERATOR: And let me just add, you would have to be living under a rock not to know what the United States view is on Mr. Snowden and the fact that we believe he should be returned to the United States, that he would receive a fair trial, that he’s been accused of three felony accounts. That’s been stated publicly and privately. And as [Senior Administration Official One] said, of course there are many, many, many channels for that, other channels for that, and the Secretary has certainly made his views known.

OPERATOR: Thank you. And our final question today comes from Justin Fishel from Fox News. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi there. So what would President Putin have to do to reverse this decision to cancel the meeting? You said it wasn’t all about Snowden. What was it about? Help us elaborate on that.

And just to sort of follow up on Josh’s question, I realize that everybody understands the U.S. policy towards returning Snowden, but are we saying it didn’t come up and there – they didn’t formally ask them to return him? Is that what you’re saying?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I’ll take the first question on what would it take. We’re not expecting to hold a summit in Moscow on the margins of the G-20. So as we look ahead and what the prospects of a U.S.-Russian summit in the future, we want to be able to have substantive outcomes that, again, demonstrate why U.S. and Russian leadership matters and what it produces.

And when the President reengaged – or after the President’s reelection and in our engagements with the Russian leadership, including Tom Donilon’s trip to Moscow in April, we set out what we – an ambitious agenda for us to work on and sort of saw the months leading up to September – when we knew there was going to be a G-20 summit, and then we agreed to move forward with the bilateral summit – as a period in which we needed to make progress on a range of issues, from missile defense and taking up the question of – broader question of strategic stability, on trade and investment, which has been a Putin priority, and then the range of other issues that we regularly work between our governments.

And our assessment was just that we – not only on the missile defense and strategic stability had we not achieved the kind of progress or counterproposals and ability to engage the Russians in the way we wanted, but even on issues that were at the top of President Putin’s agenda, such as trade and investment, we just hadn’t made progress with the Russians on a variety of initiatives that we had put forward.

And so I think that – when is a summit justified? When we’re able to, again, demonstrate why U.S.-Russian relations matter, and we just weren’t in a position to do that.

MODERATOR: And just on the second half of your question, just to be clear, the Secretary did clearly raise and express our view on Mr. Snowden and expressed his disappointment with Russia’s decision to grant temporarily – temporary asylum to Mr. Snowden. But again, there was a broad agenda today. It was a wide-ranging discussion. I think you’ve heard extensively about a number of the issues that were focused on. And we will continue to raise and discuss the issue of Mr. Snowden through proper channels. But it certainly was a part of the discussion on the early end of today.

Thank you, everybody, for joining the call. We hope this was helpful to all of you and with that, we’ll conclude the call.



PRN: 2013/0990



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