MODERATOR: We just concluded a bilateral meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov. We have a couple of officials who have taken part in this. We’ll do this on background to senior State Department officials. Let’s keep this embargoed until the end.
But why don’t I turn it over to my colleague to offer some additional thoughts and we’ll take questions from there.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Which – who wants to start.
MODERATOR: Yeah, let’s go to this colleague.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. I mean, I think the meeting was a good introduction in terms of the first meeting of counterparts, and there’s obviously a long range of issues. They started out by noting the – doing this on the margins of the Arctic Council and the long history of cooperation that we’ve had in the Arctic and through the Arctic Council, noting the thanks to the Icelanders for hosting, of course, this ministerial and looking ahead to the Russian presidency or chairmanship of the Arctic Council. And went through a range of things that the Russians outlined, which they’ll talk about publicly tomorrow in terms of their goals for their chairmanship of the council.
We’ve been – talked a lot about climate change. The foreign minister welcomed back again the U.S. to the Paris Accords, and the Secretary noted that we appreciated President Putin participating at President Biden’s invitation in the virtual summit of leaders on climate, and they talked a fair amount about climate goals. They touched on the goal that we’ve stated of the two presidents getting together, as President Biden has suggested, and working toward that. I’ll leave it for the White House and the Kremlin to make any announcements there that review some of the potential topics there in terms of a potential agenda. And then they went through a wide range of regional issues just to take stock of areas where we may find some mutual interests or be able to compare notes.
As the Secretary said and made very clear, as he’s told you before, the President said we would certainly seek a more stable and predictable relationship with Russia and are open to working on areas where we have a mutual interest. So they talked about Syria. They talked about Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia-Azerbaijan. They talked about Afghanistan and the developments there. They touched on the JCPOA and Iran, the Korean Peninsula. And let me see what else.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Say again.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Afghanistan I got already. Talked about cybersecurity. That’s one way to —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And Ukraine, yeah.
MODERATOR: — has a number of concerns, the detained Americans as well as Mr. Navalny, the pressure under which RFE and – Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty are operating as well.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The foreign minister raised again the subject they’ve proposed for some time, having a business dialogue, to look at that. And as the Secretary said, we’re still open to that. The challenge has been that businesses, certainly American businesses, are reluctant given the situation with Mr. Calvey and what’s happened to him. It’s hard to entice business to want to get involved when the kinds of experiences some businesspeople are seeing – underscored that point. And you did mention already that he raised and called for the release of Mr. Whelan and Trevor Reed.
MODERATOR: Talked about Ukraine quite a bit as well.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.
MODERATOR: We said this was an effort to test the proposition that we could build a more stable and predictable relationship. This is not a test that could be completed in the 90 minutes that we had. This is a test that will go over the course of different venues over some time. But I think it’s fair to say this was a good start – businesslike, productive discussion. Yeah.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think that sums it up.
QUESTION: When he talked about the potential for a summit, you said you – they talked about potential agenda items, but how about potential dates or places? Was that discussed in that kind of detail?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, it was, and they agreed that they’d leave that for the Kremlin and the White House to discuss in terms of any announcements they make.
QUESTION: And then when he – Lavrov opened up the issue of embassies, talking about I guess the expulsions of Russian diplomats during the Trump administration. Do you feel like you got anywhere on either – all the issues that are surrounding the workings of the U.S. embassy, the workings of the Russian embassy?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We really did not delve into that in —
QUESTION: Did not?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: — great detail. This was, again, a broad overview.
MODERATOR: This was —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We put that – I think the discussion was that we would look for ways to discuss some of those issues in more specific – some more specific channels, not at the level of ministers.
MODERATOR: I’d say broadly this was an opportunity to tee up a lot of the issues that the two presidents may discuss, that the two foreign ministers may have an opportunity to discuss in the coming months, that in some cases more at the working level will be discussed. It is just as this was —
QUESTION: Is there a working level, though? I mean, that’s what’s been missing for years in this relationship. (Laughter.)
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, actually there’s working levels that my colleagues work on and have all along.
QUESTION: Did Nord Steam come up?
MODERATOR: The Russians know quite well where we stand on Nord Stream.
QUESTION: No, I mean specifically the fact that – your action at —
MODERATOR: There was not any sort of extended discussion of it just because it’s very clear where we are on Nord Stream 2. We, at every opportunity, call it a Russian geostrategic project. The Russians know that, so there wasn’t a need to really delve into that tonight.
QUESTION: What about the other pipeline, the Colonial pipeline?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There was discussion of it just in the sense of an incident that involves cyber issues, and that this is an area more broadly that we both have concerns.
QUESTION: Is there any concern by the U.S. that if they can’t pinpoint the actors in Russia who were responsible for this that there would be resistance by the Russians to get them out of Russia or face penalties?
MODERATOR: First of all, this is an ongoing law enforcement matter so we shouldn’t go into it.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right.
MODERATOR: But there was not a – there was not a tactical discussion of any of these issues.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Correct. That’s a good way to put it, was —
QUESTION: In public, I mean, they didn’t do what the Chinese do – going through the laundry list of things. But did he do that in private at all? Do the Russians start with any of that or was —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think we had a fairly common list of areas, as would be normal. Again, we started on the basis of the Arctic Council and what’s brought us here to Iceland and the things we’ve done there. (Inaudible) that segued into climate. That moved then into a range of regional issues, and I mentioned a number of them, from Syria to Afghanistan to the Korean Peninsula to the Caucasus. And then we touched on the sort of bilateral issues like the detained Americans who should be released. Their desire to review – I think the foreign minister reviewed a number of things, I think taking this as kind of their first meeting, like their desire from the last bilateral meeting he had in Washington in 2019 for this business council, and that was an opportunity to say we’re still potentially interested in doing that, but the businesses have to be interested in participating, and one deterrent to it is the way some Americans have found themselves treated.
QUESTION: On the summit, did you say that the two sides agreed that it will be a good thing to have this summit and now it’s just a matter of deciding where and when – or is it still up in the air?
MODERATOR: So I would say that it’s up to the two presidents to decide that. I think that it was reflected throughout this meeting, a mutual understanding that channels of communication between our two countries are in both of our countries’ interests. It’s precisely why we’re meeting here. It’s precisely why President Biden floated the idea of a potential summit down the road. So that – I think we had an opportunity tonight to make – to put that to the test and it’s clear it was a good opportunity tonight. I think there continue to be ongoing discussions about logistics of a potential summit and we may hear more about that in the coming days.
QUESTION: After today’s meeting, does that summit seem more or less likely?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think we’ll just continue to move ahead in the way that we have been.
QUESTION: So is – I mean, does this end an awkward period at the beginning of the administration where accusations and sanctions were going back and forth, and now we have a working relationship at the highest – or at the ministerial level with Russia? Is it on the upswing? Are relations on the upswing in that sense?
QUESTION: Or have you set the floor on this?
MODERATOR: Yeah, well —
QUESTION: I mean, have you put a floor on this relationship? (Laughter.)
MODERATOR: Well, I guess I would just remind you that before we enacted sanctions, we renewed New START for five years. And so we’ve said from essentially day one – I think it might have been day three or four in this case – but where it’s in our interest to cooperate with the Russians, we will pursue those, the underlying criterion being what’s in our interest. At the same time, and you saw this precisely in the meeting, where we have differences – and differences is understating it – where the Russians have harmed Americans or our interests, we won’t hesitate to raise that and to hold Moscow accountable. And so this meeting was in some ways a microcosm of that. There was discussion of the Arctic. There was discussion of areas of potential cooperation and actual cooperation ongoing. But there was no mincing of words when it came to those issues that – where Russia has acted aggressively or recklessly.
QUESTION: What are we to make of the timing of the —
QUESTION: What do we make of the timing of that statement from the Secretary on the sanctions coming out during the meeting with him and Minister Lavrov? I mean, the Nord Steam 2 —
QUESTION: — sanctions statement came out then. Was it planned that way? Is it —
MODERATOR: We don’t set the timing of the reports that are due to Congress.
QUESTION: Yeah, you do, because it was several days late.
QUESTION: It was due Monday, wasn’t it?
QUESTION: It was several days late and it was obviously timed to come out when this was happening.
QUESTION: Yeah, you certainly set the time for that one.
QUESTION: Right? I mean, [Moderator], we’re not stupid, for God’s sake.
QUESTION: So what was the objective if we can put it that way?
MODERATOR: I think you may be reading too much into it. There was —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: You’re overthinking it.
MODERATOR: Yes, yes.
QUESTION: We’re trying to think too much.
QUESTION: Any updates on the detained Americans? Any progress there? I know you weren’t getting into too granular issues, but that seems like one that might have —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We already said we raised them. Very clearly —
QUESTION: No, I know. I was just —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And the Secretary made quite clear that they should be released.
QUESTION: Did you feel like you got any response from the Russians other than getting on the record with it?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Not that there was anything – again, Lavrov acknowledged that he’s aware of our interest in it.
QUESTION: If you think about the two chief adversaries of the United States – Russia, China – there’s obviously a huge gulf in terms of the public displays and how the first meetings went. With the Chinese it was a very sort of almost explosive meeting; this was very polite, cordial, elbow bumps, smiles. Why the difference in the two situations?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s analysis.
MODERATOR: Well, I don’t think you’re going to find much difference in the opening statement from Secretary Blinken. I think you’d have to ask the Russians —
QUESTION: But you didn’t accuse the Russians of genocide.
MODERATOR: He was very clear, just as he was in Anchorage, that this is an administration that’s going to stand up for the United States and for our people. The issues are different, of course. But it wasn’t – I will say in Anchorage the fireworks did not at first emanate from our side, so you’ll have to ask our counterparts why they reacted the way they did.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that and Will’s point as well, like, I mean, U.S. and Russia – and both sides have expressed this as well – still see the world significantly differently, and this is a relationship to be managed rather than – I mean, I guess it can – anything can be improved. But, like, based on this first meeting, is it likely – did you think that based on this first meeting that, for now, it is less likely to get worse in the near term?
MODERATOR: Well, look, we have always said we want a relationship that’s more stable and more predictable. And it’s also true that it is the Russian Federation that at every turn has injected that instability and that unpredictability into the relationship. Again, this was an opportunity to lay out a set of issues. I wouldn’t say that there were any breakthroughs. It was 90 minutes to discuss a pretty extensive set of issues. And so it was more table-setting and the work that will come in the weeks, months, and years to come rather than an effort to determine in one fell swoop whether we can achieve that.
Again, this is – we’re testing the proposition. It’s not a test that was designed to last 90 minutes.
QUESTION: But you mentioned in the readout that the Secretary raised Ukraine in the discussion. The Secretary obviously recently made a visit to Ukraine along with Under Secretary Nuland. The Russians are obviously very sensitive about Ukraine and the cast of characters that are in place in the U.S. State Department. What did they convey to you about Ukraine?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There were no new positions described. There was a little bit of rehashing from the minister’s standpoint their perspectives in terms of how they view the Minsk Agreements, the Normandy Format, and so where we have clear differences and views that – there was nothing new that emerged on that.
QUESTION: Can I ask about the Minsk process? Because one of the things that Menendez raised in his statement today about waiving these sanctions on the Germans, he says, well, what are you guys getting in return? Are you asking the – are you asking the Germans to do more on Ukraine or to help Ukraine more? Is there anything?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That wasn’t part of this meeting that we’re discussing here. That’s a different —
QUESTION: No, I know that’s not part of the meeting, but I’m just curious if there’s anything there.
QUESTION: Was Navalny discussed past his health? Any sort of request? The readout just mentioned his health.
MODERATOR: Yeah. I mean, the Secretary made clear in private to his counterpart what we’ve said publicly before, that if something were to befall Mr. Navalny while he is in detention, that would obviously be a very – something we would take very seriously.
QUESTION: And was there a response to that? Was there any?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t recall any specific response.
QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official], I’m not really interested in Michelle’s question. I know that Nord Stream wasn’t discussed. But, like, if you can tell us about, like, what is the – what is Biden’s – what is the Biden administration’s expectation to get out of Germany effectively in return for this move?
MODERATOR: So the Secretary has a statement out. I think we’re – we want to keep this focused on the session we were just in.
QUESTION: Guys, the issues are related. We’re here. We’re all writing on it. Like, these are not crazy questions. They’re not out of the realm.
MODERATOR: Well, no one is saying you’re asking crazy questions. We’re having a discussion about a bilateral meeting that just concluded where the issue was not discussed in any depth.
QUESTION: Was there any, at all, difference in tone from him? I mean, [Senior State Department Official], you’ve seen him over the years going back with seven secretaries of state now. Did you see any kind of —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think that the tone in this meeting was respectful. It was honest. It certainly reflected from Secretary Blinken the things he’s said publicly, what the President has expressed. There were no great surprises in this. It was a good opportunity to share views and clearly, at least I would say, it appeared that the foreign minister had the same approach to the meeting. The Arctic Council, areas where we may have mutual interests and can try to work together, talking about our two – the two presidents getting together – some more to follow on that – other channels to focus on these things, and a good coverage of the – as one would expect, I think, in a first meeting like this. There were no big surprises coming out of the —
QUESTION: Did he switch to English?
QUESTION: I was just going to ask that.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: He spoke English the whole time.
QUESTION: Yeah. He’s very good in English. He’s more direct, I think. He’s very bureaucratic.
QUESTION: This meeting obviously comes after the very turbulent tenure from the predecessor when it comes to U.S.-Russia relations. On the one hand, the president – President Trump – had a very comfortable public rhetoric, but a lot of things happened in the policy space between the United States and Russia, building up the number of irritants that exist today. Did Lavrov weigh in in any way about things that occurred during the Trump administration at all?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I mean, he raised certain items on the agenda, saying, “We discussed this in my last meeting,” which was December 10th, if I recall, 2019, when he came to Washington. For instance, the business – having some kind of business council idea, just raising that. The Secretary said, as I’ve already mentioned, we’d still be interested in that. In fact, it could be something where they could look at business opportunities in the area of innovative things related to climate change and some of the things we’ve been actually exposed to here and in other stops on this trip, which Foreign Minister Lavrov welcomed. But again, the Secretary underscored what we’ve actually talked about even in the end of the last administration, that the businesspeople are not jumping at the opportunity because of their concerns about the treatment of businesspeople like Mr. Calvey, and the foreign minister I think had heard that before and understood that.
QUESTION: There already is a U.S.-Russia Business Council.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. What they’ve tried to do is using that as a basis. I mean, that’s an organization that exists – was to have a – through the two governments to encourage and sponsor a sort of dialogue on —
QUESTION: Yeah, but the U.S.-Russian Business Council has been calling for a long time for an easing of the tensions and a reduction in the number of U.S. sanctions.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The businesspeople that we’ve found in responding to this idea of pursuing a business dialogue have been reluctant to want to go to Russia given the (inaudible) for —
QUESTION: Maybe we’re talking about a different U.S.-Russia Business Council, because the one that —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, no.
QUESTION: — the one that I’m familiar with —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: You’re talking about the organization of the U.S.-Russia Business Council. That’s not what I’m talking about.
MODERATOR: This is an initiative.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’m talking about the initiative that was proposed when the foreign ministers met in 2019 and their interest in still doing that. The Secretary said we could have an interest in that too, but to be able to actually carry that out you have to have the businesspeople who want to do it, and that – one of the problems, challenges in that has been concerns on the part of businesspeople about the risks that businesspeople take in doing business in Russia. And Mr. Calvey has certainly illustrated that challenge.
QUESTION: Like the U.S.-Russia business initiative that the Russians have pushed for for a while, they also have been interested in cyber sort of working groups and things like that. Some work was done on that in the Trump era but never – nothing was accomplished. Was that raised again and what are the prospects for that?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Cyber was talked about as an area for discussion of concerns. As we already said, the expectation that any country from which criminal cyberactivity takes place would be responsible for holding those under law and stopping that kind of activity.
QUESTION: Are the Russians (inaudible) on DPRK? How much of DPRK? What was the discussion around that? What did you get into and —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Just the same, general discussion about the Korean Peninsula and the work that we’ve done on that before where we have some mutual interest there. So there was no – again, no —
QUESTION: No surprises?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No big surprises out of this and no major movements. It was a setting of the table. It was a good overview, kind of a broad review of these areas, both regional and bilateral.
QUESTION: What are you guys looking from Russia on Korea? Anything specific?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t do the Korea stuff. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Fair enough, fair enough.
MODERATOR: There was obviously a discussion on that. Russia does engage or at least has engaged with North Korea in ways that typically the United States has not. In various formats the Russians have met – I believe most recently there was a trilateral summit in Moscow between the Chinese, the Russians, and the North Koreans. So the fact that they have leverage, they have sway with Pyongyang, and what we’re looking for the Russians to do, what we’re looking for the PRC to do, what we’re looking for all of our partners in this endeavor to do is to use that leverage in a way that’s constructive, in a way that helps us move forward that goal of, ultimately, the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
QUESTION: Are they being helpful in Iran?
MODERATOR: Well, so there was only a – I wouldn’t say there was an extensive discussion of Iran. It was a recognition of the fact that the teams are working constructively in Vienna. Obviously Russia is a part of the original P5+1. That is being negotiated in Vienna. There certainly was not a practical discussion of where we are, where we’re not in Vienna. It was just really registering the fact that Iran and Iran’s nuclear program is one of those issues where our interests do align and it would be to the benefit of our two peoples if we’re able to continue to work together constructively in that format.
QUESTION: On Afghanistan, did they offer you any tips on how to leave? (Laughter.) And – or did they just say, “We told you so”?
MODERATOR: They did not say that. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well, it’s funny because they did say that back in 2001. And they didn’t offer —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: — any tips on how to take the flag down and run out with your tail between your legs?
MODERATOR: No. There was a discussion of the peace process, stability in Afghanistan, also the security threats from groups like ISIS, ISIS-K in Afghanistan. There was not a – again, with all this, this was table-setting. There was not a more detailed discussion about the military’s retrograde operations nor would the Secretary of State really get into that. But it was, again, a recognition that with the United States disengaging militarily from Afghanistan, those in the region, including Russia, that have a stake in the future of Afghanistan, that want to see a stable, secure, prosperous Afghanistan need to step up. And there was a recognition that here, too, we have common interests.
QUESTION: What of these topics would you say is the most immediate test of the kind of cooperation you guys say you want with Russia, the one where you think you can have quick results, something tangible in the immediate future?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I mean, obviously the Vienna talks are going on right now, but related to the JCPOA and Iran, that’s happening immediately; the Arctic Council and the focus there, carrying on from President Putin’s participation in the leaders – the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate. That’s an area we can build on.
QUESTION: On the Arctic, the Secretary mentioned —
MODERATOR: Let me just add to that really quickly. The fact of this meeting itself, the fact that we can have these engagements and we can discuss the totality of the relationship and do so in a constructive way, in a way that, again, in the first instance, hasn’t yielded any breakthroughs but allows us to take stock of the relationship in a way that is useful, I think, for both of our countries – that itself is helpful, and if there is to be a presidential summit in the coming weeks, we’ll see more of that. But again, we talked about what’s to take place at the level of the Secretary and foreign minister going forward, potentially at the level of the two presidents, but also at the working level. There’s a good deal of work that was put on the table even if the details of that work will need to be delved into.
QUESTION: Since we’re in an Arctic country, sort of, I wanted to ask: Secretary Blinken was pretty specific about the maritime problems he sees in Russia, the Northern Sea Route and the way Russia is treating that. Did he bring that up with Mr. Lavrov directly and what was their response to this?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: He did, as he’s talked about with our other Arctic partners, just took note of the fact that we need to be – with increased traffic in the Northern Sea routes, we need to be careful to make sure we can avoid potential conflicts there in the sense of this increased traffic that we see. That’s just something – it’s the same issue that he’s talked about with all of the other Arctic partners in the Arctic, and I expect we’ll continue to discuss.
QUESTION: And did they have a response or – the Russian side, or to acknowledge the —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They noted that they’re obviously very much an Arctic country, and so that’s why we’re at the Arctic Council, and they’re taking the presidency. As I said, he went over and reviewed their sort of agenda and priorities, but I’ll leave that for them to do tomorrow, and they should do publicly.
QUESTION: Did one —
MODERATOR: And just quickly on that, the other broad point the Secretary made about the Arctic, and it’s something we have discussed in this context and I’m sure will tomorrow too, is that it’s a region of peaceful cooperation, and that’s really the point of the Arctic Council – to try to see to it that that continues. And obviously, having the Russians understand that and abide by those international rules of the road I think will be important going forward and the Secretary alluded to that.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And he agreed, Foreign Minister Lavrov agreed with the Secretary that we have good cooperation at the Arctic Council on Arctic issues and that we can build on this.
QUESTION: So what of the topics dominated the conversation more than others? And then was there a specific reason the meeting ran a little bit longer than expected? Was – were they working on a specific issue or were they running through?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It was just a continuous discussion.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. And even as we were getting on, it was like, “And I want to mention this, this, and this” in terms of the range of the regional issues that I described already. And things were just really —
QUESTION: What took up the bulk of their time? What?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: He also – the Secretary also raised the concerns about RFE/RL and the pressures they’ve faced, these fines, these extraordinary fines. You’re familiar with that issue and the challenges they had. He expressed our concerns about that.
QUESTION: And did they raise concerns about Sputnik and RT, their treatment in the U.S.?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: He – the foreign minister did mention them, saying that they’ve complied with our requirements for foreign broadcasts.
QUESTION: Did you mention Open Skies? Because the (inaudible).
MODERATOR: There was discussion of arms control and strategic stability as well.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.
QUESTION: And this proposal? So I’m just seeing this. The House is supporting and saying to re-raise this idea for a broad strategic dialogue, offensive, defensive, all this kind of thing. You said that they’re – he hadn’t seen a rejection of it but that it would continue to be discussed. In other words, you guys didn’t rule it out? Is that accurate?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Open Skies came up and the Secretary reiterated how that began —
QUESTION: This would include Open Skies, but including this stuff as well.
MODERATOR: There was a broad discussion of strategic stability.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Strategic stability, yeah.
MODERATOR: And they’ve – the two presidents have made the point that if they get there, this will be – this could well be a topic on the agenda, and so there was an acknowledgment of that, again, knowing that strategic stability is one of those interests that’s in the interest of our two peoples.
QUESTION: Okay. All right. So (inaudible) when he said that, that you haven’t rejected it but it hasn’t been agreed to?
MODERATOR: I haven’t seen his full comments but strategic stability was discussed and will be discussed.
QUESTION: I will tell you what his full comments were.
QUESTION: And the U.S. position is that Russia has to stop – it can’t be in violation with Open Skies in order for the United States to get back in?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: You’ll recall that for months and months and months we talked about their violation, their lack – not meeting the requirements of Open Skies, and saying that if that continued we would – we were looking to leave, which is then what we did. We did say if they were to change their behavior in terms of complying with their obligations, then we could consider that. We haven’t seen that either.
QUESTION: He said, “Today we confirmed our proposal to start a dialogue, considering all aspects, all factors affecting strategic stability: nuclear, non-nuclear, offensive, defensive.” This is what I want to know if you guys disagree with. “I have not seen a rejection of such a concept, but experts still have to work on it.” Is that fair?
MODERATOR: I think I would reiterate what I said about this was table-setting. We didn’t really get into much detail on any of this. Strategic stability was discussed. There was an acknowledgment that it would be discussed in a presidential summit, but to say we talked about offensive and defensive weapons systems is —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That is, yeah, too —
QUESTION: Too detailed?
QUESTION: So did you agree to meet again? Setting a thing, having another presidential phone call? I mean, what’s next in the —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There was no specific time. They’ll see each other tomorrow at the Arctic Council.
QUESTION: And in two years in Murmansk or wherever they hold theirs.
MODERATOR: I think the other issue we haven’t touched on too much but did take some – up some time is Syria, and the Secretary was – he went into – spent some time talking about the imperative that humanitarian access be provided, continue to be provided to the people of Syria. The upcoming votes to reauthorize the cross-border humanitarian channels is something he feels very passionate about. Those of you who saw his comments at the UN Security Council several weeks ago now will remember that he was quite impassioned; he invoked his two children and you could see that he was placing an emphasis on ensuring that we do all we can to help the people of Syria.
QUESTION: What was the response to that?
MODERATOR: I’ll leave it to the Russians to characterize their response.
QUESTION: Did the U.S. —
QUESTION: Yeah, but – I mean, yeah, this is a longstanding thing. They’ve been blocking that access for a long while.
MODERATOR: Again —
QUESTION: Would you say that you’ve actually made any headway in sort of pursuing that?
MODERATOR: It is fair to say we did not arrive at any breakthroughs tonight, but the table-setting was effective.
QUESTION: Did the issue of Venezuela come up? Obviously the administration, there’s been some calls for the administration to acknowledge some of the steps Maduro has taken in recent days. Obviously the Russians —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Venezuela did not come up in the discussion.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
QUESTION: Any —
MODERATOR: Matt says we’re done. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: No, no, no, no. Any surprises that came up? Anything the Russians brought up you weren’t expecting? Anything you brought up that you think surprised the whatever out of Lavrov?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No.
QUESTION: Were you taken aback by anything?
MODERATOR: I would say it – the Secretary was very direct in that President Biden is always going to stand up when the Russians, when their actions harm the American people. But it didn’t devolve into polemics and the Secretary, I think, took an approach that helped to assure that. There was a recognition that, from our side, we know that the Russians know what they did and every context that we’re concerned about. But there also wasn’t a relitigation of history. That alone could have taken 90 minutes. We wanted to make sure we did the full table-setting rather than spend it squabbling about different interpretations of history.
QUESTION: I don’t understand table-setting. What the hell does that mean?
QUESTION: Yeah, that’s a —
QUESTION: Before you —
QUESTION: Where’s the table? (Laughter.)
MODERATOR: I’m just very hungry. Maybe that’s it.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I recommend the fish.