SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great. Hey, good evening, everyone. So just a few things at the top, but then we’ll do some questions.
I think that you heard from the President at the press conference that in his view, there is no substitute for face-to-face diplomacy, and I think that bore itself out in the conversations today with President Putin and his colleagues from Russia. It’s one thing to be trading messages through you all or even on a phone call; it’s another to actually be able to sit down directly and go through the many issues, both the profound differences but also some areas of potential cooperation in the relationship.
And I would say that in the one-on-one or the one-plus-one, I guess, as it was, it was – and I thought the way both – certainly the way President Biden described it and what I heard President Putin say was a very accurate description of the tone of the session, which was very direct, I thought constructive, nonpolemical, and very matter-of-fact. And I think that is useful in trying to see if – one, in just clarifying the differences, being very clear about how we see those differences, but also exploring whether there are areas where we can actually cooperate because it’s in our mutual interest to do so.
And really, it matches the objectives the President had set for this meeting with President Putin. One, to try to identify areas of practical cooperation that would actually advance our interests, and presumably our mutual interests; to be very clear in communicating directly that we’ll respond when those interests are being threatened or challenged. And also, in a broader sense, to make – to share directly with President Putin the values that undergird our foreign policy, the President’s approach, by way of at least sharing directly with President Putin why we say the things we say, why we focus on the things that we do. Doesn’t mean that’s going to convince him at all. It does mean that by sharing that, communicating it clearly, maybe it lessens a little bit the possibility of miscommunication, misunderstanding. And I think the President believes very strongly in being – just being very clear and direct, and that was the nature of the meeting.
I’d say that, as you heard the President say, there is some productive movement in a few areas, particularly the launch of a process on strategic stability to see if we can look at additional arms control measures in areas that are not covered by existing agreements – well, existing agreement, singular, since we basically have New START and its extension. So that is both practical and productive.
Similarly, we agreed on the importance of having our ambassadors return to their respective capitals, and Ambassador Sullivan, who’s here, hopefully has his bag packed and will be getting ready to go back to Moscow, and Ambassador Antonov will come back to Washington. And more broadly, to look to see if we can work through the challenges that we have in sustaining our diplomatic missions. So there’s an agreement to work on that.
And then importantly, an agreement to get our experts together to consult on issues of cyber security, particularly when it comes to critical infrastructure and making sure that, as the President said, we should be – we have certain things, and he gave President Putin a list of 16 types of infrastructure that we believe should be out of bounds, off limits to destructive actions, whether it’s coming from a state or coming from an individual group that happens to be harbored in a state. And we’re going to get our experts together to see if we can pursue something in that area.
At the same time, we are looking to see whether Russia will take action against the – those responsible for the attack on the Colonial Pipeline recently, and the President was clear that he does not ascribe that attack to Russia, but to criminals, criminal organizations that may be resident there. So I think that was all practical and productive. As the President made clear in the press conference, this is not flipping a light switch. It’s going to take some time to see if these areas of potential cooperation actually produce results. We don’t know, but we can now test that proposition.
Similarly, there were a number of regional issues that that they discussed where our interests overlap at least, and where it was agreed we should see if we could find ways to work together, particularly Afghanistan, also Syria – and there’ll be a test coming up on that with regard to the extension or not of the humanitarian corridor at the United Nations in about a month’s time. We spent a good deal of time on both Syria and Afghanistan and also Iran and the effort to return to compliance with the JCPOA. They discussed, again, other areas of potential cooperation: climate – touched on COVID-19, not in any extensive detail, but touched on that – and as well, the Arctic, where Russia is in the chair of the Arctic Council, and where we make clear our determination to preserve the Arctic as a region for peaceful cooperation. And there was a discussion of that.
They also talked about areas where we have real clear and significant differences, starting with Ukraine, where the President reiterated our commitment to Ukraine’s independence, territorial integrity, sovereignty, but also some discussion of whether there might be grounds to actually try to unstick the Minsk process. We’ll see if there’s any – if there’s any there there. And Belarus, another area where we’re clearly in a very different place, and, of course, human rights. And, in fact, the President – what the President said in his press conference on that is – reflects very much what he said directly to President Putin. I think you heard him talk about how this is part of our DNA, and he couldn’t as an American president not raise these issues and continue to raise them.
So again, like – so let me just stop where I started. The real purpose is to have this direct engagement to be able to be very clear about what we stand for, why we stand for it, where our concerns are, and where we think there may be opportunities to work together and to bring a little bit more stability and predictability into the relationship. But as I said, we’re not flipping a light switch. This is going to be an ongoing process and the ultimate test is whether there are practical results. And I think we’re not going to know that for some time.
QUESTION: Is this on background?
MODERATOR: It’s on background, senior administration official.
QUESTION: Senior administration official?
MODERATOR: Senior administration official.
QUESTION: Could you give us a little more information or detail on the 16 sectors that he talked about?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure.
QUESTION: What are those 16 and what was the threatened response?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it’s actually on our website.
MODERATOR: Yeah, it’s on state.gov.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It’s not a state secret. There — there are things that are, for fairly obvious reasons when you take a look, are critical to the life of the nation and that we believe should be out of balance from disruptive cyber actions or otherwise. And actually, [Moderator] has pulled up the website. So among other things, the chemical sector, communications sector, critical manufacturing, dams, defense-industrial base, emergency services, the energy sector, financial services sector, food and agriculture. Anyway, there are 16 of them, and it has as a more detailed description if you go onto the website.
QUESTION: And he’s more specifically given his list to Putin?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: To President Putin, yes.
QUESTION: And what would the response be? Can you detail that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So this is where there was an agreement that we should get our teams together to consult on whether there’s a way forward on this and whether we can start a process to see if we can come to agreement on areas that should be out of bounds, and go from there. But this is early days. I think, again, the positive, productive step was an agreement to get teams and experts together, but it – this is going to take a while to see if there’s any real traction. But at the same time, the President made very clear that if our interests were imperiled, he was very resolute about acting.
QUESTION: Can I ask on the Arctic?
MODERATOR: Okay. Go ahead. Jenny, go ahead and we’ll go to Will.
QUESTION: [Senior Administration Official], can you tell us why the meetings ended so much earlier than were anticipated? And then, do you have any more details on the Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed case? What was the discussion around that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, well, a few things. They actually didn’t end that much earlier than anticipated in that there were some – in the original schedule there were some breaks that were built in that we didn’t fully take advantage of. But it’s as the President said: The amount of ground that the President covered in the – with President Putin in the 1+1 was extensive. They covered most of the things if not all – virtually all of the things that were on our agenda. And it goes back to what I was saying at the outset about this was a very – this was a very focused, practical, nonpolemical discussion, and as a result of that it wasn’t people reading talking points at each other or just going on monologues about this or that. It was very practically focused on these different, very important issues. And as a result, they covered a lot of ground. And some of the ground that we anticipated possibly covering with the full teams they actually covered in the 1+1.
As a result, when we got to the larger meetings, they agreed that we had covered a lot of ground; as a result, we could compress the – what had initially – what were initially going to be two sessions with the full teams got compressed into one. And that allowed us to drill deeper on a few areas that the two presidents had discussed but where we thought it was – the President thought it would be useful to go even deeper. And then there were a few – there were two or three things that hadn’t come up that we wanted to at least touch on. So —
QUESTION: And —
QUESTION: I just want to ask – oh, go ahead.
QUESTION: Sorry. Paul Whelan and Trevor —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Oh, I’m sorry. And what was the question about them?
QUESTION: Can you give us more details? Was there discussion of any sort of swap?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don’t want to get into any detail other than to say that the President was very clear about the need to resolve these cases and to see them freed.
QUESTION: Putin seemed pretty upset about the Arctic issue that he brought up.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I remember he brought something like this up in Reykjavik. Is that the – is that a freedom of navigation issue where they’re doing the Northern Sea Route and they’re using these ice walls to restrict what happens there, in addition to the broader (inaudible)?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There are two things.
QUESTION: And what was their response to that, and what (inaudible) about it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, there are two things. I mean, they profess to share our conviction that the Arctic should remain an area of peaceful cooperation. That’s good. And they’re in the chairmanship of the Arctic Council, and we – I was – I was actually, as you know, the – was there with Foreign Minister Lavrov, among others, and we said we look forward to cooperating and working with them during their chairmanship.
But we have two concerns. One are steps we see Russia taking that suggest that it is interested in militarizing more the region, and we think that is exactly contrary to our stated desires to ensure that the Arctic remains an area of peaceful cooperation. And then separate – related but separate is this Northern Sea Route, and because the ice is melting so fast and because the route is now passable for a much longer stretch in the year, that’s going to increase traffic and that has the potential to make accidents, misunderstandings, miscalculations more possible. And so we think that there’s a real need to make sure that there’s a clear understanding on the rules of the road for traffic there, which is increasing.
The Russians – I don’t want to speak for them, but they clearly have a somewhat different perspective on the militarization question, and we just see that differently. We have the same stated objective. We see what’s going on differently. We’ll have to see whether there are ways both within the Arctic Council and outside the Arctic Council to work through some of these differences.
MODERATOR: A couple final questions.
QUESTION: Do you have this issue with – is the issue that they’re claiming sovereignty and regulating their full exclusive economic zone (inaudible)?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There are issues there too. They’ve asserted claims that we believe are not consistent with Law of the Sea. And in fact, in a recent instance at least, a claim that there were asserting they pulled because it was clear that it was inconsistent with Law of the Sea.
MODERATOR: A couple of final questions. Humeyra.
QUESTION: Sir, did you get any – did the President get any commitment from Putin about continue or even expanding the UN cross-border aid operation to Syria? You said that that was going to be a test. I have one more.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah. No, there was no commitment, but we made clear that this was of significant importance for us. And if there was going to be any further cooperation on Syria, in the first instance we had to see an extension of the humanitarian crossing.
QUESTION: And I’m just wondering why you think on this occasion Russia would behave differently, specifically in the cyber area. There’s been sanctions. There’s been all sorts of penalties before, but they haven’t changed behavior. Why do you think that this might be different?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’ll let the President’s words speak for themselves, but I think that we’ve made clear that we will respond. We’ve already demonstrated that in the case of SolarWinds as well as the election interference and the attempt to murder Mr. Navalny with a chemical weapon. I think the President was also clear about his determination to respond if – going forward if Russia continues these kinds of actions. And then also, I think the President was very eloquent this evening about some of the larger risks that Russia faces if it is not seen as a responsible actor in the international community. And we’re seeing countries come together in very significant ways to stand up against other countries that are taking actions that challenge the rules-based order, that challenge basic norms of behavior and conduct.
And I think coming off of the G7, NATO, and the EU, where there was strong alignment on that – on the basic proposition that we all need to defend these understandings, this order, because the alternative is law of the jungle and chaos, which is in no one’s interest. I think the President was able to speak with not only his own very strong clarity and conviction, but with knowledge on the part of Russia that we have allies and partners fully with us in making sure that we are working together to defend the rules-based order and to take action when anyone tries to undermine it.
QUESTION: Thanks. [Senior Administration Official], was there any discussion of Havana syndrome, audio attacks? And on COVID, you said it was a small part of the conversation. Was that largely based on vaccine distribution or was the origins investigation – any role in that as well?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On COVID, there was a reference on the need for the international community to get to the bottom of what happened if we were going to be effective in trying to prevent a recurrence – not a detailed discussion but the basic point made that it was – this was of real importance. And with regard to the anonymous health incidents, there was a – I would say a reference to it, but not a discussion.
QUESTION: Has he changed at all, Putin, since last time you met him, do you think?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’m not sure I’m qualified to comment. I’ve been in meetings with him maybe a handful of times, so —
MODERATOR: Very quick final question from Joel.
QUESTION: Can I just take a look back at NATO a little bit?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure.
QUESTION: The – NATO and the EU, Brussels generally. The NATO communique language on China – and there’s a couple paragraphs there, but the communique acknowledged Stoltenberg’s expert (inaudible) report, but it didn’t really (inaudible) recommendations. There’s not really any specific tasking – or that’s – there’s not really any specific tasking in the communique for the alliance on what’s to go forward. And some of that seems driven by Western Europe. Macron said that NATO shouldn’t get confused, China’s not in the North Atlantic – not very much – and the EU is expected to unveil this strategic compass next year during France’s presidency of the – the rotating presidency.
So is there – do you see a strategic divergence there with Western Europe? And is there a plan to bridge that apparent gap with France or coordinate between NATO and the EU as those different – those strategies are coming together on different timelines?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I’ve got to say quite the opposite. I see a strategic convergence. I wouldn’t say it’s total, but it’s actually moving in that direction, not in the opposite direction. I mean, the G7, the last time the leaders met in 2018, had that in-person meeting, China wasn’t even mentioned in what they did. And with regard to NATO, we have an agreement, among other things, on the need to revise the strategic concept. Last time it was put together, in 2010, China was not mentioned; Russia was a partner, I think even a strategic partner. So there’s clear, I think, understanding in each of these institutions, and with regard to the EU, we just had – we just resumed the U.S.-EU dialogue on China just a couple of weeks ago.
So I think the paragraphs that are in the NATO communique, as well as what was written in the G7 communique, actually reflect a growing convergence on concerns about China. And whether it is supply chains, whether it’s human rights, whether it’s different activities that seem to pose a challenge to the interests and values of the countries that are part of the G7 or NATO or the EU, I think there’s a growing recognition of that.
And again, I think there’s also – if you look at what was said in these meetings and what’s reflected in the communiques, a recognition, too, that the relationship with China is a complicated one. It’s not – there’s not a simple bumper sticker that sums it up either, and I think there’s a general convergence around the proposition that for most of our countries, China has – the relationship with China is in parts adversarial, in parts competitive, and also in parts cooperative. But we’re – in dealing with any of those aspects of the relationship, we’re all going to be much more effective and much stronger if we’re working in common purpose. And that’s what, I think, you’re seeing.
With regard to the NATO specifics, take a look at paragraph 24 of the communique and the list of things that the Allies agreed we are going to pursue to make sure that NATO is actually adapted to the challenges of today and tomorrow. There is a very detailed work plan, and the point was not to have resolved all of these issues, it was to set NATO on a course over the next year – between now and the next summit – to work on the details and to make sure that the alliance is resourced appropriately so that it can take on these new responsibilities and new missions. So I’ve got to say we felt very good about the substance, where we landed, and the forward motion that was launched at this summit and that will carry us to the next one.
But again, as most things, nothing is flipping a light switch. It’s do you have a clear roadmap, a clear plan, and clear, shared commitments. I think the answer is yes.
MODERATOR: Just a quick final data point: The Under Secretary for Political Affairs along with Eric Green from the NSC tomorrow will travel to Brussels. They’ll brief our NATO Allies. They’ll brief the EU, along with the Japanese and the Ukrainians. Important for us to consult both before and after these types of engagements and that’ll help with that.