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Background Briefing on Secretary Kerry's Trip to Berlin and Munich, Germany


Special Briefing
Senior State Department Officials
Via Teleconference
January 30, 2014

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SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Hi, everyone. Thanks for joining us. We’re just doing a brief preview call for our trip to Germany over the next couple of days. This call as per usual is on background for attribution to senior State Department officials. We’re going to pick through the schedule first and do a couple of highlights, and then we’ll take a few questions.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: All right. So we are headed to Germany en route to the Munich Security Conference, which as you know is the premier conference that starts the year for transatlanticists, and it’s now obviously also gone global. Though the Secretary has attended a number of times as senator, this is his first time as Secretary, but not his first time in Germany. He was in Berlin on his very first trip as Secretary. We are going to take a stop in Berlin before we go to Munich so that he can see his new counterpart, Foreign Minister Steinmeier, reprising his role as foreign minister of Germany, and see Chancellor Merkel as she starts her new term.

And then we will go on to Munich for the security conference. When we arrive, he’ll have a brief courtesy call with German President Gauck, who is giving the senior opening speech at the conference for the German Government. And he and the Secretary will have just a brief hello after President Gauck’s speech.

Then he’ll have a bilateral meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, a frequent flyer with us. And then they will move into the trilateral session. Lavrov’s session will be joined by U.S. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Special Representative Brahimi – big surprise, subject will be Syria. Senior State Department official number two is here to answer any questions about that.

And then the next day, the Secretary will make his remarks at the conference. He and Secretary of Defense Hagel will share the stage. This is the format we’ve done before with senior Administration officials. Secretary Kerry will give some remarks, Secretary Hagel will give remarks, and then they’ll answer questions together. On both sides, these will be remarks about the transatlantic relationship, about our partnership with our European allies and partners, and about the big European year we’re going to have in 2014.

We have three presidential trips to Europe this year for a U.S.-EU summit, for the G8 summit in Sochi in June, and then for a NATO summit in September. So the Secretary – the two Secretaries will kick off that very intensive year of European diplomacy by giving some framing remarks on the importance of strengthening and deepening the partnership going forward.

Then the Secretary will join an EU-hosted Quartet meeting which senior State Department official number two will also speak about, if you’d like. Then he will have a bilateral with EU High Representative Ashton. And then in the middle of the afternoon, he’ll have an opportunity to have his first meeting with the major figures in the Ukrainian opposition. We’re expecting to be Mr. Klychko, Mr. Yatsenyuk , Mr. Poroshenko, and Ruslana, the rock star.

He’ll then have a session with – the bilateral meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu, and then a bilateral with UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed. And then he will go and meet our consulate staff.

On Sunday morning --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: On Sunday morning, he will meet with Israeli negotiators. At this point, it will definitely be chief negotiator and justice minister Tzipi Livni. If there are other attendees we will let you know about that.

And then I think – and that’s where we are with the schedule. If there are other pieces that are added, which is always possible with these events, we’ll of course keep you abreast as we continue.

With that, let’s turn it over to questions. And let’s start with questions in the room.

QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official One], you’ve done a lot of the heavy lifting on Ukraine. What is the significance of this now – he’s meeting with the opposition, they’ve obviously gotten themselves out of the square, government’s stepped down. I mean, things are moving in their direction. What – how do you frame this presently, then?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, as you know, we’ve been cautiously optimistic that this dialogue between the government and the opposition is beginning to bear fruit – as you say, the rolling back of the Black Thursday laws, the commitment for the government to step down. They are now working on some harder things. They’re working on amnesty for those who’ve been involved in protests and the vacating of some of the government buildings.

They then have to move on and work at resetting the democratic compact, if you want, within Ukraine because a lot of the power has been concentrated now in the presidency and there’s a sense that they either need to go back to 2004 constitution, that they need to otherwise agree on a more balanced set of democratic responsibilities within the system. And then there’s this question of whether they can move on to form a government of national unity.

So they are coming to Munich sort of in the middle of this negotiating process on what the political compact might look like going forward. They are very much in the thick of it. They will have a chance to – the Ukrainian opposition will be there, Foreign Minister Kozhara from the government will be there. They’ll have a chance to talk to a lot of the interested parties and stakeholders in the international community, many of whom have already been involved. As I said, the EU is going to be there, the UN is going to be there, we’re going to be there.

And I also expect that in a lot of these bilateral meetings we’ll all be talking about Ukraine and how we support what we hope will now be a process back to democracy, back to economic health, back to human dignity, and back to Europe as the – to meet the aspirations of the Ukrainian people.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Okay, let’s go to some questions on the phone.

OPERATOR: Okay, thank you. And ladies and gentlemen, if you would like to ask a question, please press star then 1 on your phone keypad. If you’re using a speakerphone, please pick up your handset before pressing the numbers.

And we do have a question from the line of Anne Gearan with Washington Post. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks for doing the call. Hello official one, nice to talk to you. I lost track here a bit when you were giving the itinerary. Where and when again is the Brahimi and Ban Ki-moon set of meetings? And then can we talk just a moment about what you expect the agenda to be from that, whichever of you wants to address it?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: So I can start here. The --

QUESTION: Okay.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Those meetings are Friday evening in Munich, so after the earlier meetings that senior State Department official one went through in Berlin earlier. (Inaudible) we spend the night in Munich that evening and that’s where the meetings are.

QUESTION: Okay.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: The focus of these meetings is – you may remember that in advance of the start of the Geneva negotiation, the Secretary had a similar set of meetings, so this is a bookend set of meetings as the first round of Geneva negotiations conclude tomorrow.

And part of the purpose, of course, is to talk about the status of those discussions, what’s happening on the ground, planning for the next round, which will happen in the coming weeks, as Joint Special Representative Brahimi has said.

Also, I would expect or we would expect the Secretary to also raise, as we have today and as the UN has raised today, the need for the Syrian regime to do more in terms of moving chemical weapons to the port at Latakia. And so he will raise that as well and see if there’s more the Russians can do to help with that, as well as humanitarian assistance and our efforts and desire to see more progress made in getting that aid to the hardest-hit areas in Syria. So we expect that to be the focus of the meeting.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. I guess I’d only --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: All right --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Sorry. I’d only add that the bilateral meeting with the Russian foreign minister before that will also obviously focus to a large extent on Syria, but will cover a range of other --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Of course.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: -- both bilateral, regional, and global issues as well.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: And the Sochi Olympics.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Absolutely, and the Olympics. As they discussed earlier this week, they touched base on ongoing coordination and cooperation on that topic as we get ready for the kickoff next Friday. I don’t think they call it the kickoff. The Opening Ceremonies.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: The skate-off.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: The ski-off, whatever it is. The jump-off.

We’ll go to the next question.

OPERATOR: Okay, thank you. And our next question comes from Jo Biddle with AFP. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi guys, thanks very much indeed. Two questions, one on the Ukrainian opposition leaders who are coming to meet with you in Munich. Have they been given assurances that they will be allowed back into the country, given the fact that things are still very delicate there, and that there won’t be any reprisals against them for going out of the country?

And I forget what my other question was, so maybe you can answer that and I’ll ask it – I’ll ask it in a minute.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, Jo, you won’t be surprised if I ask – suggest that you ask them. But I – our understanding is that all the major leaders are coming. They are coming because they want to talk to the international community about the way forward as they see it and the support that they need. And clearly, they would not be coming if they didn’t have confidence that they’d be able to do that and go back and continue the discussions, because every single one of them is deeply committed to taking their country forward.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks. And I remember my other question. Sorry. Given that Secretary Kerry’s now going to meet with Chancellor Merkel, do you feel that the tensions that were caused over the whole NSA spying scandal have now been resolved?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Our view is that we’ve made an enormous amount of progress in working through these issues not only with our German allies but with other allies. As you know, we’ve had intensive bilateral discussions. Those discussions obviously will continue, and I expect that the path forward will be one of the subjects that the Secretary speaks to both Foreign Minister Steinmeier and Chancellor Merkel about.

But we have a very broad and deep agenda, and we wanted not only to continue to resolve that issue, but more broadly to talk about all the things that we do together, whether it’s in the transatlantic space or whether it’s globally – Afghanistan, Middle East, and all those things. And again, it’s Chancellor Merkel starting her new term. As you know, she hurt herself skiing not too long ago so she hasn’t been seeing too many people, but she very much wanted to see Secretary Kerry.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Before we go to another call, do you – Tom, do you have any questions you want to ask? Okay, let’s go to another question on the phone.

OPERATOR: Okay, thank you. And we’ll go the line of Lesley Wroughton from Reuters. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, hi. I was wondering, when it came to Official Number Two, or maybe it was Number Three said that – what other issues are there going to be discussed with Russia? You said there were many. The other one is: What kinds of issues are you trying to resolve in the discussions on Syria?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I’ll take the Russia point first. We work together on a huge number of issues, as you know. They always talk about Syria, they always talk about Iran, they always talk about our bilateral relationship. Recently, we’ve been talking about how we take the economic relationship forward. I would guess, given the circumstances, they will talk about Ukraine, they will talk about Russia’s neighborhood. As we have been discussing, we’ve been in very close bilateral cooperation on preparations for the Sochi Olympics, so they will no doubt talk about that.

And anything else?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. Just given the port they have to be in the next day, they’ll probably talk about Middle East peace as well and also because President Abbas was just recently in Russia, so I would imagine the Secretary will be asking for a readout of those meetings.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: And on the question of what will they resolve, I wouldn’t look at this as a matter of resolving as much as continuing to take, as Joint Special Representative Brahimi called it, baby steps forward. And obviously, Russia has been an important partner in making – working to make progress on the Geneva communique and moving the process forward.

So it will be an evaluation of where things have gone so far over the last – how things have gone over the last 10 days or so, and a discussion of where we need to make progress now, which, as I mentioned, is specifically in some areas including the transfer of and the movement of chemical weapons to the ports, and humanitarian access and improving that, and certainly, preparing for the next round whenever that is scheduled.

QUESTION: Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: I think we have time for one more question here before we have to hop on the plane.

OPERATOR: And if there are any additional questions, please press star 1 at this time. And I do have a follow-up question from Jo Biddle with AFP. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, just whilst we have you and seizing the opportunity, on Afghanistan, do you think there’ll be some general discussion about the problems that you’re now faced with with no BSA accord signed, and whether you’ll start building together some kind of common consensus on when it is you might have to start taking troops out of the country?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Jo, as you know, Secretary Hagel is also going to be in Munich, and he’s having a number of bilateral meetings with his defense counterparts, including, I believe, the German defense minister. So a number of the countries that are going to be represented by defense ministers at this conference are important partners in Afghanistan, so I’m sure they’ll continue the discussion about how we prepare for the future. But I don’t think you should expect any decisions to be made at this meeting. It’s a set of informal consultations.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Okay. Thank you, everybody, for joining. And as always, we’ll get the transcript around.



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