MODERATOR:  Good afternoon from the State Department’s Brussels Media Hub.  I would like to welcome everyone joining us for today’s virtual press briefing.  We are very honored to be joined by the Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, Ambassador James O’Brien.

A quick reminder that today’s briefing is on the record, and with that, let’s get started.  Ambassador O’Brien, thank you so much for joining us today.  Turning it over to you for opening remarks.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY O’BRIEN:  Thank you, and thanks, everyone, for joining.  So in Brussels – and tomorrow we’ll open the foreign ministers’ meeting of the NATO Alliance – Secretary Blinken will meet with 30 colleagues for a discussion of a range of issues.  We anticipate three main themes through the conversation.  The first is Ukraine.  This meeting will feature the first ministerial meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council.  This is the primary forum for consultations and discussions about what the next months will bring as Ukraine prepares for its future place in the Alliance and engages with the Alliance.  I think it’s important here to note that this is a venue where Ukraine sits at the table as a full member, and so it really represents the future that we see Ukraine having as a – within NATO, as has been our position.

Now, in addition, we’ll see a discussion of the Western Balkans.  NATO provides a key security framework for the Western Balkans, particularly with the support for the KFOR mission in northern Kosovo and with the reserves and other support for the EU mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  The NATO ministers will reaffirm the role of this security framework as a critical enabling element as the states of the Western Balkans move toward their European perspective.  We in the United States are encouraged by the recent recommendations of the European Commission for continued work on European enlargement in the region; also, President von der Leyen’s proposed growth pact with states of the Western Balkans provides an opportunity for each of these states to reform and receive benefits quickly on its path to Europe.  And we see that as the political future of the region and NATO providing a security environment in which it’s possible for these states to move forward.

Finally, Secretary Blinken and his counterparts will discuss the upcoming Washington Summit.  Next July, in Washington, the Alliance will note its 75th anniversary and explain how it is preparing to defend the future as – while it looks back on the 75 years of development in the Alliance as well.  We anticipate that this will be an open discussion among Allies about themes and decisions to prepare for the Washington Summit.  This meeting is a free exchange of views, not a decision-making meeting, so there will probably be more a noting of the themes that we’ll be sharing.

Finally, Secretary Blinken and the secretary general will have a meeting; they’ll also have a press availability, and at the end of the time they’ll have a press availability to go over any conclusions from the summit so there’ll be an opportunity to learn more about the themes I just discussed and any other issues that arise throughout the conversation over the next day and a half.

So with that, I’ll turn it back over to you and we can see if there are questions.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Ambassador.  Indeed, we do have a number of questions queued up here.  A number of them follow the same theme, so we’ll turn to Wiktor Nummelin from TT News Agency in Sweden, who asks:  “What kind of explanation are you getting from Türkiye and Hungary about the slow process in ratifying the membership of Sweden – Sweden’s NATO bid?”

ASSISTANT SECRETARY O’BRIEN:  You want to take a couple of questions and I can – it might help us get through a few.

MODERATOR:  Certainly.  There is a similar question from Elina Kervinen from Helsingin Sanomat.  “This is yet another meeting where Sweden is not a full member of NATO.  What is the expectation about the timetable at this time and what is the U.S. message to Türkiye and Hungary?”

And then perhaps one more, sir.  The – a slightly different topic, from Niels Goedegebuur from ANP in the Netherlands:  “What contenders do you see for being the next NATO secretary general?  Do you think Dutch – former Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte would be a good candidate?”

ASSISTANT SECRETARY O’BRIEN:  Thanks.  So on Sweden, we look forward to Sweden becoming the 32nd member of the Alliance.  The – Sweden is very capable and will be a great contributor to the Alliance from day one.  Already it’s a very strong partner.

Our Turkish and Hungarian Allies have told us that they see no substantive problems with the bid and are simply working to collect the votes.  We’ve made the point that there’s no benefit that comes from delay and it’s time to move.  So we anticipate that Sweden will become a member of the Alliance very soon and we look forward to that – to that moment.

In terms of the secretary general, I’m not going to comment on internal deliberations of the Alliance.  I will, however, say that we have a great secretary general right now.  We are very pleased that Secretary General Stoltenberg agreed to extend his term to carry us through the Washington Summit, and we look forward to preparing for the summit with him and his team here as well.


MODERATOR:  Thank you, sir.  We’ll go to a Turkish outlet now, the – Deger Akal from Deutsche Welle Türkiye asks:  “Türkiye’s approval of Sweden’s NATO membership faces delays, and apparently Ankara is losing hope it will acquire new F-16s from the U.S. and wants to buy Eurofighters now.  How do you evaluate these developments?  Is modernizing Türkiye’s air force also important for NATO’s deterrence and defense posture?  What are the concrete conditions, developments that could contribute to the approval of Türkiye’s F-16 request.”

And then one more question, sir, from Momchil Indjov from Club Z Media in Bulgaria:  “Is there a possibility to increase even – is there a possibility to increase the NATO presence on the eastern flank even more due to the continuing conflict in Ukraine?  If so, how many more troops could be deployed and where would they be deployed?”

ASSISTANT SECRETARY O’BRIEN:  Thanks.  So on the question about Türkiye and Sweden, look, President Biden has said for a long time that he favors modernizing Türkiye’s F-16 fleet.  I don’t have anything more to add right now except to say that we look forward to moving forward on that.

The – and then on the eastern flank, I’m not going to speculate about numbers or the disposition of NATO forces.  That’s something for the military experts and then the political officials to decide.  I’ll note that we’ve put a great deal of emphasis recently on ensuring that the Black Sea remains open to navigation, and have worked with the NATO Allies around the Black Sea and with all of the littoral states other than Russia to try to keep Russia from turning the Black Sea into an area where trade is constricted.  The Black Sea is an incredibly important channel for the transit of grain to global markets, and especially for the Global South.  It’s very important that the Black Sea be open to navigation.

That’s why we welcome the steps Ukraine has taken, with strong support from Romania and Moldova and the European Union, to increase its exports.  If you remember, Russia terminated its participation in the UN’s Black Sea Grain Initiative in July.  It appeared that Russia was intent on strangling Ukraine’s exports.  This would have directly hurt the Global South, which receives many of Ukraine’s exports of grain.  Instead, over recent months we’ve seen Ukraine start to increase its exports, once again starting to exceed in fact the levels it often reached under the Black Sea Grain Initiative.  This is a real tribute to the work of the Ukrainian military to push the Russian military away from the sea lanes, and then very brave mariners and Ukrainian port and dock workers to make sure that the grain reaches global markets, and we very much appreciate the efforts of Moldova and Romania to support this as well.

So we’re seeing brave efforts to bring grain to global markets despite Russia’s efforts to reduce the flow of food to people who need it.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Ambassador.  A couple more questions.  The first, from Natalia Drozdiak from Bloomberg, based here in Belgium.  She asks:  “Does the U.S. rule out inviting Ukraine to join NATO at the Washington Summit?  Could Allies revisit the Vilnius language on Ukraine’s prospects or has that been ruled out as well?”

And then Dmytro Shkurko from the National News Agency of Ukraine asks:  “As Russia is now wasting its military personnel and equipment in the war against Ukraine, what is your assessment of Russia’s ability to carry on the aggressive policy against other neighboring countries and even NATO?  What is your perception of the analysis saying in six years after the war is over, Russia will be able to recover and strike again, this time against NATO members, in particular in the Baltic area?”

ASSISTANT SECRETARY O’BRIEN:  So as to the first question, I’m not going to speculate on deliberations within the Alliance.  We’re very focused on helping Ukraine meet its priority reforms under its annual national program with the alliance.  We’ve said that we believe Ukraine’s place is in NATO, and we’re very happy that this first meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council will put Ukraine at the table in its proper alphabetical order as a full participant in that forum.  And we look forward to the day that it’s a full member.

The – in terms of Russia’s ability, again, I don’t want to speculate on when Russia will try anything.  I think it’s clear that President Putin has decided he’s not interested in peace talks about Ukraine; that he believes if he waits, he will have the upper hand and will be able to try to bring Ukraine under his control again.  That will create a platform from which he’d be able to endanger NATO’s security.  It’s a reason that we believe Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine started in February 2022 needs to remain a strategic failure for Russia and can’t be allowed to create another base from which Russia will assert its imperial control over Ukraine, but as well be able to threaten other NATO member-states.  So we see this as a really important opportunity this week to reaffirm our commitment to Ukraine and to stand by Ukraine while it regains control of its territory and is able to help its people meet their own expectation of turning to the West and joining Western institutions.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Ambassador.  Another Ukraine-related question from Markus Preiss from ARD.  He asks:  “General Zaluzhny said recently that the counteroffensive will not produce a major breakthrough should Ukraine switch from offensive to defense strategies again in order to save the precious material and the lives of soldiers.”

And then switching topics, from Lusine Petrosyan from Armenia:  “At this – as this briefing is devoted to the upcoming NATO foreign ministerial, may I ask you to assess the prospects of supporting Armenia through the European Peace Facility mechanism that was voiced or announced by the EU recently?  And may it enhance Armenia’s cooperation with NATO?”

ASSISTANT SECRETARY O’BRIEN:  So I won’t characterize the Ukrainian offensive.  I’ll just note a couple of facts for the record.  Ukraine has regained more than half the territory Russia seized since its February 2022 further invasion of Ukraine, and it’s opened sea lanes through the Black Sea, and these are critical routes for Ukraine’s main export industries for its economy, for its people to see hope in the future.  These are significant accomplishments of the Ukrainian military.  They’re a reason we see the good opportunity that comes from continuing to support Ukraine’s military efforts.  Obviously, any battle, any war goes through multiple tactical shifts, and I’ll leave that to the generals.  But we do see real gains from Ukraine’s military activities and a reason to hope that there’ll be more to come.

On Armenia, I’ll leave any discussion of the European Peace Facility to my EU colleagues.  What I’d say is Prime Minister Pashinyan has been very courageous, has made clear that he wants Armenia to move forward in opening its borders and in opening its relations with the West, that it doesn’t want Armenia to be wholly dependent on Russia in the way that previous leaders sought to have it be.  And he’s undertaken a number of reforms that are – should be very encouraging for Armenian citizens as they look to continue the sort of quick economic growth that they’ve had over the last year or two.

And I think Prime Minister Pashinyan has also been a bold voice for a peace agreement with Azerbaijan as a way of allowing Armenia to focus on its economic development, to build out its security relationships, and to expand trade from Central Asia through to Türkiye, and all of which is something we would very much like to see.  So any package that is supportive of Armenia is something to be welcomed; exactly how the EU chooses to get there will be its business.  But we are committed to working with our European partners and with the government in Armenia to see that the people of Armenia are able to benefit from the reform policies that the Pashinyan government has undertaken.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Ambassador.  We have one more question, and then I’ll just note for the journalists that have dialed in, the floor is open if you’d like to ask a question live.  Again from DW Turkish, Deutsche Welle Turkish:  “How do you view the increase of Türkiye’s exports of military-linked goods to Russia?”

ASSISTANT SECRETARY O’BRIEN:  So the U.S., the EU, the UK, and our G7 partners have made clear that we do not want any of our key partners to become places where our sanctions are circumvented.  Türkiye has put in place a number of reforms that have made it more difficult for certain items to transit Türkiye, especially from the United States, but obviously there’s always more to do.  The U.S. has designated a number of individuals and institutions who’ve been involved in this trade; some of them are Russian nationals who have set up companies and tried to carry battlefield electronics and other items through Türkiye to Russia.

And we’ve seen some progress in this regard, but it’s a job that’s never done.  The Russians are always trying to import more, and it’s important that we continue to close doors for Russia.  Otherwise, we see more events like this weekend, with the very large attack on Kyiv, where – and we know that the kinds of goods that support those attacks are things that are imported, often from the West or from G7 countries through a few key entrepôt countries.  And so we’d like all that to stop as soon as possible.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, sir.  I’ll just – we have one more question now from – that just popped up from Shona Murray from Euronews.  Actually, we’ll go to Judit:  “The Orbán government has a two-thirds majority in parliament.  This assembly can and does vote in a minute when Orbán agrees on it.  The Hungarian Government’s narrative is an explanation” – I’m sorry, sir, I’m trying to – trying to interpret this question here.  It seems to be an internal Hungarian Government question, which I (inaudible) appropriate for this venue.  I will —

ASSISTANT SECRETARY O’BRIEN:  Is it – is this about Sweden?  Is that the —

MODERATOR:  No, sir, it’s not.  It’s internal.


MODERATOR:  The – I will say that the floor is open.  We’ll wait about 30 more seconds to see if there are any other questions from the group, either in the chat or to ask a question live.  It looks like those are all the questions we have today.

Ambassador, thanks so much for joining us today.  Can I turn it back over to you for any final thoughts?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY O’BRIEN:  Nothing more from me.  Thanks, everybody, for the attention.

MODERATOR:  Appreciate it.  Thanks very much.

Shortly we will send the audio recording of the briefing to all participating journalists and provide a transcript as soon as it is available.  We’d love to hear your feedback, and you can contact us at any time at  Thank you, Ambassador, again, for joining us, and thanks to all the journalists that have come online for this press briefing.  We hope you can join us for another one again in the future.  This ends today’s briefing.

U.S. Department of State

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