MS PORTER: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for joining us. Welcome to today’s briefing to preview Secretary Blinken’s upcoming trip to London and Kyiv, Ukraine, which we announced officially this morning. One reminder before we get started: This briefing is on the record, however the contents are embargoed until the call is complete. A transcript of this call will also be posted on our website, www.state.gov.
Our briefers today include Senior Bureau Official, Ambassador Erica Barks-Ruggles for the Bureau of International Organization Affairs, who will brief on the G7 portion of the trip that will take place in London, as well as Acting Assistant Secretary Philip Reeker for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, who will brief on the UK bilateral aspects and the Ukraine portion of the trip.
So first we will start with our briefers, and then I will take your questions. I’ll now hand it over to Senior Bureau Official Barks-Ruggles to begin on the G7 portion. Madam Ambassador.
AMBASSADOR BARKS-RUGGLES: Thank you, Jalina. I’m very happy to be on this call with you and with my colleague, Acting Assistant Secretary Reeker. I’m Erica Barks-Ruggles, the Senior Bureau Official for the Bureau of International Organization Affairs. The administration has plainly stated that domestic and foreign policy goals are inextricably linked, that multilateral organizations are crucial platforms where we can carry out our policies, and that we will represent American interests in these institutions where international rules and relationships are forged.
This coming Sunday, Secretary Blinken is traveling to London to participate in the G7 Foreign and Development Ministers’ Meeting at the invitation of the UK, which holds the rotating presidency of the G7 this year. We are very excited for the Secretary to attend in-person meetings after the interruptions caused by the pandemic last year and also to be hosted by our close ally, the UK.
On this call I’d like to preview some of the themes that will be discussed at the G7 and run down the schedule, then I’ll turn things over to my colleagues to discuss other aspects of the trip as stated. At the end, we’ll all take some questions.
On the agenda for this year’s G7, it will be filled with weighty issues, including COVID-19, economic recovery and growth, the climate crisis, human rights, food security, gender equality, and more. The list of challenges is long, but our partnerships are deep and strong to tackle these challenges.
Our approach to responding is just as important, in fact, as the challenges themselves. We’ll discuss geopolitical challenges from the perspective of collaborative and multilateral strength. We will affirm the values our nations share, such as media freedoms and how to protect them. We will discuss a sustainable recovery from the pandemic and how to develop greater resilience going forward.
The pandemic and the climate crisis are the latest reminders that we are bound together in a global community. Our history of shared values with our G7 partners will be a firm base as we work to meet these global challenges.
I’ll now move to the Secretary’s schedule.
The Secretary will arrive in London on Sunday evening, May 2nd.
On Monday, May 3rd, the day’s events will be filled with meetings with counterparts from the UK, Japan, the Republic of Korea, South Africa, and Brunei, which is attending the G7 in its capacity as Chair of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
The day will conclude with a G7 welcome dinner in which the group will discuss some of our key geopolitical challenges.
On Tuesday, May 4th, the G7 meetings will begin with a session on China to discuss how we can work closely with our allies and partners to address our collective challenges from a position of strength.
This will be followed by sessions covering geopolitical issues of mutual concern.
And Tuesday’s schedule will conclude with a G7 dinner, including guest countries, in order to discuss the Indo-Pacific. The guest countries will include Australia, India, the Republic of Korea, South Africa, and Brunei.
The meetings on Wednesday, May 5th will be largely G7 and guests, beginning with a discussion of Open Societies, a theme proposed by the UK which includes media freedom, cyber governance, disinformation, and the shared values that help our nations thrive.
This will be followed by two afternoon meetings under the frame of Sustainable Recovery as we build back better from the pandemic. The meetings will cover Vaccines and Health and then Girls’ Education, Climate, and Food Security.
USAID Administrator Samantha Power will join the two Sustainable Recovery sessions. During the Sustainable Recovery sessions, the G7 Ministers will endorse the Girls’ Education Declaration and the Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Crisis Compact.
That concludes the schedule of events for the G7.
I will now turn to my colleague, Acting Assistant Secretary Ambassador Phil Reeker of the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. He’ll discuss the UK bilateral and Ukraine portions of the trip. Over to you, Ambassador Reeker.
AMBASSADOR REEKER: Thanks very much, Erica, Ambassador Barks-Ruggles. Obviously, as the ambassador indicated, while in London for the G7 Foreign and Development Ministers’ Meeting, the Secretary is going to take advantage of this opportunity to engage directly with a number of allies and partners on some of the key challenges – broadly speaking, of course, international security issues, COVID-19, and then rebuilding the global economy, particularly as we emerge from the pandemic. In these engagements, Secretary Blinken will affirm the strong bonds between our countries and among allied countries, and the imperative to work together to advance our shared priorities on global issues.
As Ambassador Barks-Ruggles indicated, Secretary Blinken will hold bilateral meetings with the UK, including with Foreign Secretary Raab and with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and then a variety of other leaders and European partners to discuss key priorities and shared challenges, including Russia, China, climate change; as already mentioned, the COVID-19 pandemic; promoting human rights and using this international stage of the G7 to talk that whole range of issues. The meetings, of course, are an opportunity to discuss shared efforts, from my vantage point, of course, to strengthen the transatlantic alliance and cooperation in the face of so many of the challenges that we have, but also the opportunities of the present and the future.
Then following time in the UK, the Secretary will travel on to Kyiv, Ukraine, May 5 through 6. While there, he’ll meet with President Zelenskyy. This will be their first time to meet, as well as with Prime Minister Shmyhal and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Kuleba, who he met previously in Brussels just a few weeks ago. He’ll also meet with representatives of Ukrainian civil society and parliamentary representatives. And Secretary Blinken will reaffirm unwavering U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, especially in the face of ongoing Russian aggression. He will also encourage more progress on Ukraine’s institutional reform and the anticorruption agenda. There is a lot of hard work to be done to ensure a brighter future for all Ukrainians.
I think this goes perfectly in hand with the broad goal of this administration in terms of what we’ve done already and continuing to do and underscoring how our partnerships and alliances are key to advancing our mutual goals and promoting shared values.
The Secretary will highlight the steps we’ve taken to build those friendships and partnerships in the first 100 days of the administration. The institutions and the relationships, I think, are even more vital as we take on some of the evolving challenges in what is a very changing world. The G7 meeting, of course, provides a crucial forum to discuss our progress and aspirations with likeminded partners and with allies and as we work together toward even greater global security and economic prosperity.
Why don’t I stop there in terms of the overview remarks, and I’ll pass it back to Jalina to take some questions. Thanks.
MS PORTER: Thank you. Let’s go to the line of Matt Lee.
QUESTION: Hi there. Thank you. I hope you can hear me before this massive storm hits us in, like, 10 minutes. Phil, I guess these are for you, because they have to do with the bilateral stuff, although I would like to know in terms of the G7 when Ambassador Barks-Ruggles was talking about geopolitical issues of mutual concern, I presume that means – after the China session, I presume that those geopolitical issues are, like, Afghanistan, Russia, but correct me if I’m wrong.
For Phil, I’m sorry I’m going to be missing this trip, because the cast of characters involved and surrounding it are interesting to say the least. My first question is: One, in London, in – I presume that the Secretary or other officials will meet with the Germans, and I’m wondering how strong or how high on the agenda Nord Stream 2 will be – potential sanctions.
And two, on Ukraine – well, actually, is Toria going to be in London or is she just going to be in Kyiv? And then in Kyiv, since she is expected to be there and given the fact that she’s not exactly the most beloved person by Russia, how do you see the anticorruption message, particularly given Ned’s comments at the top of yesterday’s briefing on the energy company, playing into this, particularly because of the FBI raid on Rudy Giuliani and the fact that the whole idea of Ukraine corruption has kind of popped up again after impeachment one. Thanks.
AMBASSADOR REEKER: That was a mouthful, Matt.
QUESTION: Yes, sorry.
AMBASSADOR REEKER: Let me first say that in terms of Under Secretary Nuland, whom we welcomed back to the department today, I’ll have to check on her travel plans exactly. I must admit I’m not fully up to date on that but we can certainly get back to you on that. I don’t know if Erica would like to go on the short question related to G7 particularly, and then I can address some of the others.
AMBASSADOR BARKS-RUGGLES: Sure. Just very quickly, when we say geopolitical issues, that means the whole suite of issues that are out there, including obviously COVID is high on the agenda, but also the two topics you stated, and there’s a whole host of other issues, including Syria and other things that are – that we assume will be discussed that are things that we discuss regularly with our G7 partners. Back to you, Phil.
AMBASSADOR REEKER: Thanks, Erica. Certainly, you mentioned Germany, Matt, and I do expect that Foreign Secretary Raab – excuse me, Foreign Minister Maas will be there as Germany is a member of the G7. So clearly, they’ll be part of the G7 meetings themselves and I think we will meet separately with the Germans in a bilat format. Nord Stream 2 remains an issue. You’ve heard that from the President, from the Secretary, from the spokesman. And we will continue to make very clear to the Germans our views of that project, that it should stop, the laws that we have in place, and, of course, we have a lot of other issues to discuss with Germany as well. And so we will have the standard range of bilateral discussions on that.
In terms of Ukraine, you rightly noted the spokesman’s remarks and concerns about recent steps there in terms of the Cabinet of Ministers’ actions to manipulate some of the existing regulations and dismissing the supervisory board and replacing the management of Ukraine’s leading energy company – that’s NAFTAGAS. For us, we’ve stressed for many years in our efforts to help Ukraine that the key reforms in terms of transparency, in terms of fighting corruption are what will be most important to Ukraine’s stability and future progress. And any attempt to change governance and the selection procedures at government agencies is troubling. Corporate governance is a critical part of a stable democratic society, and we will continue to call on Ukraine’s leaders and representatives to respect transparent corporate governance practices, particularly in the management of state-owned enterprises and particularly in the energy sector, which is so important in its economy.
I think you’re aware, Matt, that energy security assistance to Ukraine has been a U.S. Government priority. If I recall correctly, it’s over $110 million that the United States has committed in terms of assistance to strengthen Ukraine’s energy security. That ties into the Nord Stream 2 issue that you raised earlier. I think others in the international community, other friends of Ukraine’s across Europe, and including the International Monetary Fund, have also expressed concern about some of those steps. So clearly this will be on our agenda when we meet with President Zelenskyy and other officials. We look forward to hearing from others in Ukraine involved in anticorruption efforts. That will be, I think, important. Some of the same messaging we’ve had in the phone calls, we’ve had at a variety of level levels, and I don’t think that needs to tie into U.S. domestic issues per se. We’re focused on helping and supporting Ukraine and the people of Ukraine and achieving the kind of Euro-Atlantic-Western integration that they have specified as their path forward. And again, I think focusing on anticorruption and transparency and good governance is critical to that effort.
MS PORTER: Let’s go to the line of Andrea Mitchell.
QUESTION: Thank you so much, and thank you, Phil. Regarding Ukraine, let me follow up on that. Will the Secretary be meeting, when he meets with members of civil society, with some of the anti-reformers there who were active against Giuliani as well? And is he coming with answers to any kind of a military wish list for new defensive or offensive weapons that Ukraine may feel it needs in response to the recent moves by the Russians vis-a-vis regional troop presence and – so the weaponry that was left behind.
AMBASSADOR REEKER: Thanks, Andrea. On – in terms of security assistance, as you know, we have provided significant security assistance, both lethal and nonlethal, to Ukraine. And I believe Congress has earmarked some 408 million in Fiscal Year 2021 for security assistance for Ukraine. I’m sure that will come up in our conversation. It’s part of our regular engagement between our embassy and between those of us who are in regular contact with Ukrainian officials.
Your first question, in terms of who the Secretary is meeting, I don’t have with me lists of the participants specifically in what we expect to be a roundtable involving and focused on reform and anticorruption. I’m sure we’ll be able to get you the names of the civil society activists, probably include representatives from AMCHAM, the American Chamber of Commerce. And, of course, there have been many who have been targeted with intimidation and harassment for their activism on this important issue. In terms of specific names, I’ll just wait until we’re more sure and I’m sure we can get those for you.
MS PORTER: Let’s go to Barbara Usher.
QUESTION: Thank you. This is a bilateral question. This is a trip to the G7, of course, but it’s also Secretary Blinken’s first trip to the United Kingdom, and President Biden is also going to be making his first overseas trip to the UK as well as Europe. What are the priorities from the U.S. side with regards to the relationship with the UK?
AMBASSADOR REEKER: Thanks, Barbara. Yes, you’re absolutely right; this is the Secretary’s first trip or, I should say, his first trip as Secretary to the UK and, I think as Erica noted at the beginning, I know he’s very pleased that we’re able to start traveling more given the various COVID protocols.
Obviously, the United States has no closer ally than the United Kingdom. You’re very aware of the exceptional partnership, the Special Relationship that we have that’s born of common values and renewed, frankly, on a daily basis through cooperation on a range of joint security and economic issues, global issues, as we’ve talked about and will be the focus of the G7 conversations. But all of that is the foundation of our mutual prosperity and security. Obviously, we are NATO Allies, original founding members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and we and the United Kingdom work together through a host of multilateral institutions. We’re also permanent members together of the UN Security Council and, like the G7, we use all of these platforms and institutions to advance democratic values and the rule of law throughout the world, promoting the set of institutions and rules and norms that were developed in the post-war period that have led us to the period of great stability, certainly in the transatlantic space and the – and increased prosperity.
I’d just add that our close economic ties have been important and brought great prosperity to both nations. I think two-way investment, direct investment between the United States and the United Kingdom is more than $1.3 trillion, and so the chance to visit in person is always a nice way to reaffirm that, take a look at some of these issues together. Obviously, we have a long history with this, and as you noted, the President will have a chance to go to the UK as well for the G7 summit coming up in June.
So plenty to talk about there, whether it’s climate or COVID and the continuing recovery from that. The Secretary’s had a chance to meet with Foreign Secretary Raab on a number of occasions in multilateral fora at the NATO ministerial and again at NATO just a couple weeks ago. They’ve had video conferences and numerous phone calls. It would be great to be able to see each other in person.
MS PORTER: Let’s go to Nick Wadhams.
QUESTION: Thanks very much. My question is – two parts. One, on the G7 summit, do you anticipate that some of the themes the President outlined in his speech on this notion of democracies versus autocracies will come up? And what’s your response to concerns from some European countries and some in Asia that the U.S. is essentially asking them to pick a side between the U.S. and China or the West and China?
And then second, on Ukraine, just to follow up on the corruption issue, given all that’s happened and this NAFTAGAS imbroglio, is that leading to a broader assessment or reassessment about the Zelenskyy government’s commitment to fighting corruption? Are you concerned that he’s turning away from some of the promises that were the whole reason he got elected? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR REEKER: Erica, do you want to take the G7 one and then I can come back on Ukraine?
AMBASSADOR BARKS-RUGGLES: Sure, yeah. So on the issue of China, obviously, that is on the agenda, as I discussed at the beginning. And the President has been – and the Secretary have both been quite clear that our relationship with China is going to be competitive where – when it should be and it will be collaborative when it can be, and it will be adversarial when it must be. But the common denominator throughout here is engaging China from a position of strength, and that includes the strength that comes from alliances and partnerships, and our goal is not to have an us versus them or to make allies pick and choose.
Our goal is to uphold the rules-based international order, which has helped keep the peace for the last 70 years. The efforts by the PRC to really challenge the rules-based order – on economic values, on human rights, on the governance structures of the UN and other places – is something that we and our allies need to talk about and we need to work on, and we need to strengthen those institutions and reinforce the democratic values-based system upon which we have built peace, security, and prosperity for the entire world for the last 70 years.
And so yeah, we’re going to have those conversations, but it’s not a pick-and-choose conversation. It’s a how do we work together to strengthen the institutions upon which we all rely and where we all work to make sure that our core values remain the core values of the international system upon which we all depend. So I think that’s the frame on which we’ll be talking.
Over to you, Phil.
AMBASSADOR REEKER: Thanks, Erica. I mean, some of that kind of pertains also to the broad message in engaging Ukraine, as we do other partners. More specifically to your question, as we alluded to earlier, our concerns about good governance and the transparent corporate governance reflects that same set of values. I mean, we support Ukraine’s chosen European path. It’s very much what the Ukrainian people have focused on in terms of their almost 30 years of independence now, and we worked with them to push for progress on fighting corruption and implementing reforms.
I think President Biden underscored that in his conversation with President Zelenskyy. Certainly, in our meetings with Foreign Minister Kuleba, Secretary Blinken has underscored that. And we’ve looked together – that’s how – what we use these meetings for – at areas where we can highlight concerns but also the things that we believe are going well and hear from the Ukrainian side on their plans and where we can help through our assistance programs, through our advice. And that’s what we’ll continue to do. We will certainly, as I said earlier, underscore the call on Ukrainian leaders to respect the transparent corporate governance practices in terms of management particularly of state-owned enterprises. And that applies, of course, to the energy sector as well.
MS PORTER: So I want to be conscious of the time. We have about a minute left. We can go to the line of Shaun Tandon. Shaun, if you have a really quick question, that would be great.
QUESTION: Yes, thanks. I’ll try to be quick. Could I follow up on Ukraine? Could I ask for your assessment at this point about what has happened in recent weeks with Russia with the pullback of troops? Do you see this at all as reassuring, or do you think it could be a facade of sorts? What’s the understanding of the U.S.?
And related to that, you talk about support for Ukraine. The issue of NATO membership, obviously that’s something that President Zelenskyy has often mentioned. But do you think that’s all in the cards for discussion, particularly considering Western Europe – Western European misgivings historically on that? Thanks.
AMBASSADOR REEKER: Thanks, Shaun. I’ll try to fit this in in one minute or close to it. Look, in terms of Russia, Secretary Blinken has spoken to the fact that we saw in recent weeks and months – and we certainly addressed this during our meetings in Brussels a couple of weeks ago when Foreign Minister Kuleba had been in Brussels for a NATO-Ukraine Council meeting and the Secretary had an opportunity to meet with him afterwards.
We saw the largest buildup of Russian troops in Ukraine, in Crimea, and along Ukraine’s borders, and expressed our concern about that, called upon Russia to de-escalate that. We’ve seen announcements, of course, and reporting that Russia has begun to withdraw some troops from the borders of Ukraine. We continue to monitor that situation very closely, obviously in touch with Ukraine and with other allies who are concerned about threats to instability there.
We have made very clear in our engagement with the Russian Government that they should refrain from escalatory actions and cease aggressive activity in and around Ukraine as well as in the Black Sea, where Moscow had announced blocking of certain vessels in parts of the Black Sea. Again, this all boils down to reaffirming our support, the United States support, for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
In terms of NATO, I think you’re very aware that the Biden administration remains to – committed to ensuring that NATO’s door remains open to aspirants when they’re ready and able to meet the commitments and obligations. We’re committed, certainly, to ensuring that a country like Ukraine can work to meet those standards. Ukraine does an annual national plan every day – every year – an annual national plan that allows it to work with NATO. And they have enhanced operational partnership status, which also gives opportunities. And a lot of that, of course, involves Ukraine continuing to implement deep, comprehensive reforms. Those are laid out in that annual national program, and that’s part of the necessary effort in building a more stable, democratic, and prosperous and free Ukraine. And so we’ll continue to work with them in all of those areas.
MS PORTER: With that, we will conclude today’s briefing. The embargo is now lifted and thank you again for joining this afternoon.