MODERATOR: Okay. Welcome to our flight to Brussels. We’re very excited about it. We have a very special briefer here who you’re all familiar with who will be Senior State Department Official Number One henceforward. This background briefing will preview our trip to Brussels and the NATO ministerial as well as Moldova, and we will preview the trip to Israel a little later in the week as more details on that are available.
So with that, let me turn it over to State Department Official Number One. (Applause.)
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thank you. It’s great to be back with all of you. (Laughter.) I like this high technology solution we have here on the aircraft.
Well, as [Moderator] has said, we are headed to NATO for the traditional December ministerial meeting. This ministerial will be the kickoff on the foreign minister side of planning for NATO’s summit in 2014, which will be in September – September 4th and 5th – in New Wales, hosted by the United Kingdom. It takes about a year to plan for these summits, so this is – this ministerial will largely set the agenda.
More broadly, 2014 is a very big year in the transatlantic relationship. It marks 100 years since the outbreak of World War I; 70 years since Normandy; 25 years since the Berlin Wall fell; and 15, 10, and 5 years respectively since the post-Cold War enlargements of NATO, so a lot of big anniversaries. It also marks the end of the alliance’s combat mission in Afghanistan, even as we prepare for our train, advise, and assist mission and our enduring partnership with Afghanistan.
So 2014 will be a year in which we’ve got a lot of high-level attention to Europe. This summit is the – will be the security component, and it will have three main pillars: First, as I mentioned, on Afghanistan – ending the combat mission, moving on to train, advise, and assist. And then on the second pillar, the capabilities pillar, we’ve got to – even as we start bringing the vast majority of our combat forces home from Afghanistan, we’ve got to ensure that we sustain NATO’s military edge. So the second pillar of the summit and of our work tomorrow and Wednesday to prepare will be to talk about capabilities. In the context of the extreme budgetary constraints that all of our allies are facing, it’s incumbent on all of us to do more with the dollars, euros, pounds, zloty, et cetera that we have. And that means using NATO for more pooling and sharing of military capabilities.
And again, if you think about the last 10 years at NATO, Afghanistan has really been not only our biggest military mission; it’s also been the test bed for our ability to operate together for ensuring we have 21st century capabilities, and for our work with partners, because there are 41 partners. So again, as the combat mission winds down, we also have to ramp up our exercise schedule as allies, because we won’t have Afghanistan as that area where we’re working together. And we also have to look at how we take some of the lessons that we’ve learned about training third-country forces not just in Afghanistan, but NATO had a training mission in Iraq. We’ve trained in Kosovo. But every time we’ve trained, we’ve reinvented the wheel.
So one of the things we want to look at in the context of moving towards this summit is institutionalizing NATO’s training capability, NATO’s training capacity, so that we have a single focal point in the alliance where we can pull together the best that we offer countries – whether we are doing that training as an exit strategy at the end of a mission like in Afghanistan, or whether it is something that we try to do to prevent future conflict. So that’s the capabilities piece.
The third piece for the NATO summit and for our work tomorrow and Wednesday is to continue to deepen and broaden NATO’s partnerships. NATO has some 44 partners from five continents, making this alliance really the premier transatlantic core now of a broader global security community. So we have this ability to plug and play with countries across the world, but we need to broaden and deepen it. So that means, first of all, finding ways to reward those countries that do the most with us as partners while also ensuring that the existing partnerships that we have in places that are turbulent now – I’m thinking about countries across the Med – are broadened, deepened, and made more operationally effective.
So NATO, as you know, has partnerships in the Mediterranean Dialogue and in the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, with countries all across the Med littoral and in the Gulf. And some of those countries deployed when NATO did its operation in Libya, so that’s another thing that we want to really focus on.
So those are the main pillars of the NATO ministerial. Just to walk through that schedule, first of all, tomorrow when we arrive, the Secretary will have a bilateral meeting with Georgian Foreign Minister Panjikidze. He will not be able to stay for the NATO-Georgia council, so he wants to see her bilaterally. He also wants to see her to congratulate Georgia on initialing its association agreement and DCFTA with the EU just a week ago in Vilnius, and to talk about how the United States can support Georgia moving forward on its path to integration with Europe.
He’ll then have his usual signals check with NATO Secretary-General Rasmussen, and there will be three NATO sessions at 28 tomorrow. The first one is on the larger summit goals, as I’ve just described. The second one is on partnership. The third one is on NATO aspirants, those countries who want to join the alliance. He will also sign a bilateral cyber security agreement with Estonian Foreign Minister Paet. Estonia, as you know, is a leader in the field of cyber security, and this will deepen the bilateral work that we do together which reinforces some of our work in NATO as well.
Then on Wednesday, we have the NATO-Russia Council. As you know, NATO and Russia have been working together for more than a decade. This partnership is key in the context of Afghanistan, context of WMD. We patrol the Med together. We’ll also, I’m sure, discuss in the NATO-Russia Council the work that we’re doing together to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons. And then we have the NATO meeting in ISAF session. That’s the 28 allies plus our 41-plus partners in Afghanistan with representatives from the Afghan Government. It’s going to be the acting Afghan Foreign Minister Zarar Ahmad for Afghanistan, and the Minister of Interior, Mohammed Daudzai.
So that is the NATO piece. The Secretary will also have time for a bilateral meeting on Wednesday with EU High Representative Ashton. You know that we work extremely closely with the EU around the world, but tomorrow’s meeting – Wednesday’s meeting we expect will focus heavily on implementing the first stage of the Iran agreement, next steps with Iran, our work together to get to Geneva II with the Syrians, and the U.S.-EU trade negotiations, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the TTIP.
And then at midday, we are headed to Moldova. Secretary Kerry will be the first Secretary of State to visit Moldova since Secretary Baker’s 1992 whistle stop through all of the former Soviet republics after their independence. Vice President Biden was in Moldova in 2011. Here again, we are making this brief stop to demonstrate U.S. support for the important choice that Moldova made at Vilnius to initial its own association agreement and deep and comprehensive free trade agreement with the European Union.
As you may know, Moldova has come under some pressure from its big neighbors since it made that decision. All of its wine exports to Russia have been cut off. So among the things that we’re working on with the EU as we support Moldova moving forward is helping the Moldovan wine industry find new markets. The European Union has already reduced or dropped all of its tariffs on Moldovan wine.
So in addition to going to – into town to meet with the government – and we will be seeing the president, the prime minister, and the foreign minister all together – the Secretary will go to the famous Cricova winery outside of town, and you all will come with us. Cricova dates from the 15th century. There are some 120 kilometers of caverns underneath the earth where the wine is stored. We’re not going to do all 120 kilometers, but we’ll have a chance to tour it. And we’ll also get a chance to taste the wine and make some announcements about U.S. support for Moldova. We’ll have a chance to also see some other exhibits of Moldovan exports that they’re looking to sell both in Europe and in the United States, including fashion, home furnishings, those kinds of things.
So why don’t I stop there.
MODERATOR: All right. Questions?
QUESTION: Can we have time – thank you. So he’s not going to meet with – you said he’s meeting with Ashton and part of that is the Iran and Geneva II. I mean, is he going to meet with Lavrov at all? And also, I mean, on the issue of the Syria chemical weapons that you mentioned and the destruction of chemical weapons, is – what are the discussions about Russia taking some of the ownership of contributions and helping? Because it does seem as if the U.S. is being faced with the lion’s share of the responsibility after this joint agreement with the Russians.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Foreign Minister Lavrov will be at the NATO-Russia Council meeting. We haven’t settled on a bilateral meeting at this point. I think there will be more bilaterals in general that we’ll be able to fill out in the next couple of days, but I don’t want to prejudge whether they’ll meet bilaterally.
With regard to Syria chemical weapons, the Russians have taken primary responsibility for ensuring that the Syrians continue to work cooperatively with the OPCW not only to declare their stocks, but to prepare the stocks for shipment out of the country. They’re working on the ground in Syria to prepare for that step. And I would guess that Foreign Minister Lavrov will have more to say about that himself at NATO.
QUESTION: Just following on that theme with regard to Russia, you mentioned that the Russians had signaled their displeasure about the Moldovan efforts to work with the EU by cutting off wine imports. They’ve threatened to cut off energy exports to Moldova, I guess. They’ve taken another range of heavy-handed moves with regard to other East European countries. The United States worked hard to get Russia in the World Trade Organization. Do you consider these actions by Russia inconsistent or a violation of their commitments under the WTO, and do you intend to express – does the United States intend to express its concerns directly to the Russians about this?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We have been very clear with the Russians that we don’t see any need to see the decision of Moldova and Georgia to initial agreements with the EU as a zero-sum game, and that we think that kind of play is self-defeating. If Russia’s neighbors become richer and more prosperous as a result of having visa liberalization to the European Union and increased trade, they are more able to buy more things from Russia as well, and they are more stable on Russia’s periphery.
So our message has been to take off the zero-sum glasses; all boats can rise here. And in fact, in the EU’s conversations with Russia and in the U.S. conversations with Russia, we have encouraged Russia to work in the same direction that the Eastern Partnership countries are working, namely to reduce barriers to trade, to drop tariffs, rather than some of the bigger tariff barriers and walls they’ve been proposing elsewhere. We think we will all benefit by moving in a free trade direction, just as the U.S. is seeking to do in the TTIP negotiations with the EU, and as these Eastern Partnership countries will be able to do as the benefits of the DCFTA kick in.
With regard to the WTO, it’s certainly a matter of concern. It would be up to the Moldovans whether this is incompatible with their agreements with Russia. But it is – would be their sovereign right, obviously, to bring cases if they so chose.
QUESTION: I just wondered, is there going to be any discussion at all on the breakaway regions, either with the Russians or Georgians and the Moldovans? And any new thinking about how – whether the problems with those can be resolved?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I think we’ll certainly talk about Abkhazia-South Ossetia with the Georgians, and we’ll talk about Transnistria with the Moldovans. One of the things that’s interesting about the agreements that Georgia and Moldova have initialed with the EU is that they provide for visa-free travel when they’re fully implemented. And Moldova, for example, may be eligible for visa-free travel to the EU as early as next year.
So one of the messages to the people of Abkhazia, the people of South Ossetia, the people of Transnistria, is that it is the countries of Moldova and Georgia that are becoming more modern, more democratic, offering more opportunity for citizens, and that as a Transnistrian with a Moldovan passport, you’re going to have better economic opportunities, better educational opportunities as these agreements kick in. So we actually think that they could have a positive impact on the conversation between Tiraspol and Chisinau on the way forward in the Moldovan context, and between Abkhazia and Tbilisi in the Georgia context over time.
QUESTION: At NATO, how much do you expect the question mark hanging over the BSA to affect your discussions with other potential BSA signers, the other countries that might have similar agreements following on the U.S. one? And are you concerned that the prolonged question mark around this may encourage some of those countries to just say, “Forget it, we don’t – we never really wanted to do this anyway, and now we’re not going to”?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, following the completion of the U.S. BSA, the plan has been for NATO to negotiate its own agreement with the Afghans, which would cover many of our allies and partners. There may be others who need their own agreements, but they would be modeled on that agreement.
The NATO meeting in ISAF format with all of our ISAF partners will be a key opportunity for the Afghans to hear not only from the 28 allies, but also our 41 partners how absolutely essential it is to move forward with the legal underpinnings of our continued ability to advise, train, and assist. You know where we are. We are very gratified that the Loya Jirga gave its support to the text. We consider that the Loya Jirga represents the will of the Afghan people, and it’s time to move on with it.
QUESTION: Can you say who’s going to be there for the Afghans?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: It’s the acting foreign minister, who is Zarar Ahmad, and it’s the Minister of the Interior, Mohammed Omar Daudzai.
QUESTION: Thank you. Do you believe that countries like Moldova, Ukraine, or Georgia are fit to join one day the European Union? And in your conversation with the EU officials, do you feel that they are willing to welcome those countries one day in the EU? Thank you.
And one thing on Ukraine: The fact that the Secretary’s not attending the OSCE summit, is it a clear sign of displeasure from the U.S. Administration?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: First off, Nicola, what the EU has offered the Eastern Partnership countries to date is an association agreement and this deep and comprehensive free trade agreement. So at this moment, they have not opened the door to membership. If that day comes, it’ll be a decision of the European Union.
What we are very pleased about is that this offer of association and free trade has been a real motivator for continued democratic reform in all three of these countries, notably including Ukraine, which has already passed some 18 pieces of legislation to get ready, addressing issues of rule of law, justice, crime and corruption, opening their market, all these kinds of things. So just as NATO enlargement and EU membership was a pull for all of Central Europe, these association agreements are being – are becoming a very positive pull for essential democratic and market-based reforms in these countries. So it will make them more European in the way they govern, the way they do business, the way they provide justice for their people, and that’s a very, very good thing.
As you know, the Secretary’s travel is very tightly booked. When we looked at where else he could go after NATO, we wanted to send a very strong signal of support for those countries that had moved forward with the EU because of what it means in terms of their commitment to reform. Had that been the case with Ukraine, it would have been a tougher decision whether to go to the OSCE, but since that didn’t happen, we’re going where the European decisions were made.
QUESTION: Thanks. I’ll be taking requests later. (Laughter.) What is it that you expect to hear from the Afghan MOI and FM at the conclusion of the presentation tomorrow? And I’m wondering if you’ve heard from some of the NATO partners, if they too have thought about going to zero options, since that’s something that the U.S. has repeatedly said is becoming more of a possibility or probability the longer that Karzai stretches this out.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, just as it’s not the U.S. choice or our preferred option to go there, it’s not the choice of any of our NATO allies or partners to go there. We all want to be able to continue to train, assist, advise the Afghans, as we’ve been discussing since the Chicago summit, and to have a deeper enduring partnership on the political side with Afghanistan as well. But as I said, we all need the legal basis to be assured and to be clarified. We think we’ve got a very good document with the U.S. BSA. It can be a model for the NATO document going forward. But the Afghans have to make it clear that we are welcome and that there will be clear rules of the road.
QUESTION: And what do you think they would say?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We would like to see them come and make it clear that we’re going to move forward.
QUESTION: I just want to – if I could follow up on that. Is there – are you getting any indication at all that the Afghan representatives there will be able to change Karzai’s mind? I mean, it seems like this is a unilateral decision on his part.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I think I’ll just say for now that our discussions at the top level of the Afghan Government continue on this subject. But again, I think what’s important about this NATO meeting in ISAF format is it’s not just the United States that the Afghans are going to hear from. They’re going to hear from 60-plus countries.
MODERATOR: One thing I’ll just add: I mean, it doesn’t take the meeting tomorrow to know that not only the Loya Jirga supported moving forward the signing of the BSA, but a number of Afghan officials – senior officials – have spoken publicly about their interest in moving forward. So all it takes is signing the agreement we’ve all agreed to. That’s what we’re continuing to press for.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that one thing, though, [Moderator]?
QUESTION: That’s all right. Go ahead, yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Even if you get that message across to them and they’re in agreement, what happens if Karzai doesn’t change his mind?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We’re going to keep working on this because it’s the right thing for Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that quick? First of all, is there any kind of timeline on when you need (inaudible), and just to your point that you said that – you noted that Afghans – Afghan officials themselves, there was some reporting last week – I was off, but there was some reporting that you were thinking of going around Karzai to look at some other officials that could possibly sign the agreement.
MODERATOR: So on the second point, I know there was reporting last week. I refuted it in that it would have to be blessed by President Karzai in order for somebody else to be the designee. So that’s not something that we’re actively pursuing. The other – what was the first question?
QUESTION: I think it was for [Senior State Department Official One]. Is there a time where the allies have to (inaudible) on an agreement?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, our hope had been – has been that we can use the February defense ministerial to move forward in articulating the details on the NATO train and advise mission. But you know what the U.S. view has been on this with regard to our own contributions. The National Security Advisor was absolutely clear on that when she was in Afghanistan not too long ago.
QUESTION: And that was the end of the year, right?
QUESTION: I’m just going to switch to Syria. You mentioned the OPCW and the work that’s being done on the CW. Can you talk a little bit more about Geneva II? Aside from the Ashton meeting, will that come up in any formal way? The Europeans have been supporting the process so that – where are we?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: It’s not a formal part of the NATO agenda. As you know, we work with key European allies and partners on Geneva II in the London 11 format. A number of key allies are part of that, and a number of them will presumably be helping to prepare for Geneva II. But it’s not a formal NATO subject, per se.
MODERATOR: And as you know, I mean, the next meeting is December 20th, right, so – where they’ll continue the discussion about the agenda and invites, et cetera. And between now and then, obviously, there may be discussions on the margin, but that’s where the next forward steps will likely take place.
QUESTION: All right. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thanks, [Senior State Department Official One].
MODERATOR: Thank you.