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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 Assistant Secretary Mallory Stewart from the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance.

Finally, a reminder that today’s briefing is on the record, and with that, we’d like to get started.  Assistant Secretary Stewart, I’ll turn it over to you for opening remarks.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY STEWART:  Thank you so much, John, and thank you to everyone for joining this morning, or this afternoon.  The United States and all other NATO Allied states parties to the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, the CFE, announced in a North Atlantic Council statement issued on November 7th our decision to suspend the operation of all of our CFE Treaty obligations consistent with our rights under international law.  The U.S. suspension will take effect on December 7th.

The combination of Russia’s withdrawal from the CFE and its continuing full-scale war of aggression on Ukraine – the largest act of aggression in Europe since World War II – represents a fundamental change of circumstances with respect to this treaty.  Russia’s war against Ukraine is completely contrary to the basic objectives of the CFE Treaty, and its withdrawal from the treaty removes the largest military force in Europe from treaty accountability.

The United States and NATO Allied states parties to CFE will not be military constrained by the CFE Treaty while Russian armed forces are not and while those very forces are engaged in a war of aggression against another CFE state party.  The United States and our NATO Allies remain committed to effective conventional arms control as a critical element of Euro-Atlantic security, and we will continue to pursue measures with responsible partners that aim to bolster stability and security in Europe by reducing risk, preventing misperceptions, avoiding conflicts, and building trust.

I look forward to any questions you have about this activity and this action.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, ma’am.  We have one question live right off the bat – Alex Raufoglu.  Alex, please go ahead.

QUESTION:  Hey, John, thank you so much for doing this.  And Assistant Secretary, thanks so much for your time.  I have a couple questions.  In terms of timing – you mentioned the war – what is your best assessment on why this is happening now given that Russia has suspended participation in the SFE* way back in 2007?  So why a full withdrawal from the treaty now, and whether there is any connection in your mind between this action and the reports that we are receiving from North Korea and other countries where Russia is seeking actively some support?

Second question:  Is it time to finally get rid of the NATO-Russia Found* Act from 1997?  And something connected to that, I’m just wondering:  Wat effect will the NATO Allies themselves suspending their treaty obligations have in general, broadly speaking, and Euro-Atlantic security, both on a practical level and strategic level, if you want?

Thank you so much.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY STEWART:  Thank you so much, Alex.  I think Russia’s decision to withdraw from the treaty is just the latest in a series of actions that they’ve taken to systematically undermine Euro-Atlantic security, of course.  So they’ve shown a contempt for the rules-based international order and a disregard for arms control in particular, including the key principles represented by the CFE of reciprocity, transparency, verification, and especially host nation consent.

You’re right that they suspended in 2007, but our reading and interpretation of Russia’s recent actions – and especially their decision to fully and completely withdraw on November 7th – was just to re-emphasize their disregard for the international system that the rest of Europe has decided has kept us safe.

Again, while they suspended in 2007, I think they are looking for any elements to demonstrate their disregard for the architectures and the international legal structures that have been deemed helpful and stabilizing in the region, because their very actions show a disregard for the interest in stabilizing and abiding by law.

With respect to sort of what this means for our broader relations, none of this is helpful, and I think if Russia continues on this path to continue to try and withdraw, disregard, and undermine our international legal architecture, it’s going to be extraordinarily harmful to have any ability to continue engaging with them.  And so we have to make sure that there’s no advantage received from Russia by their actions to disregard either this treaty or the numerous others.  And we have to ensure our unity of action in response, which is why NATO demonstrated that we all are going to suspend, hopefully preventing the complete disregard for this treaty so that we can return to it or utilize it when – if and when a situation comes about when we’re able to return to the CFE in some form.

But the suspension represents a very different approach than the complete withdrawal that Russia has taken, and we also were very clear to pursue and abide by international law in our decision – and I can discuss that – which is very different than Russia’s actions in its own suspension in 2007 and its complete withdrawal on November 7th.  So we’re trying to differentiate our responsible behavior; we’re also trying to clarify that Russia will get no benefit from its irresponsible behavior.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  And with regards to the Found* Act from 1997, is it time to get rid of it finally?  Thanks so much.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY STEWART:  Yeah, I mean, I think we should have a conversation with others, and it certainly is not a decision that I would be in the position to make.  This is a collective decision and discussion that needs to – needs to be discussed.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, ma’am.  We have another hand raised from Radio Free Europe, RFE/RL.  RFE/RL, could you please just identify yourself and go ahead?

QUESTION:  Hi, yes, it’s Mike Eckel in Prague with Radio Free Europe.  Can you hear me okay?


QUESTION:  Great.  Thank you.  Since – thank you for taking this call and this question.  Since you referred to other treaties, other arms control treaties, I wanted to bring up the question of New START.  A lot of people have pointed out that time is running out for any sort of effort to negotiate some sort of follow-on treaty to New START when it follows – when it expires.  I’m wondering if you can characterize the status of U.S. efforts to engage in any sort of treaty negotiations to follow on from New START.  Have there been anything – anything of the sort of the Russians?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY STEWART:  Thank you for that question.  I think you’re all aware of the background of the New START Treaty purported invalid and illegal suspension that Russia engaged in, and the reaction that the United States adopted, which was proportionate and reversible countermeasures in a manner fully consistent with international law.  And of course we adopted these countermeasures to prevent Russia from getting an advantage from its illegal suspension of the treaty, but also at the same time to work to induce Russia’s return to compliance, right.  We’re not holding our breath on that for sure, but we have very publicly conveyed through our National Security Advisor and his speech on June 2nd that the United States is ready to engage Russia, to manage nuclear risks, and discuss a post-2026 nuclear arms control framework.

As President Biden has said, dialogue on nuclear matters should continue because of bilateral tensions, not despite them.  So as has been reported, we followed up on Jake Sullivan’s speech via a (inaudible) in September to reiterate the key messages from the speech and add additional details.  Russia has not responded, but Deputy Minister Ryabkov actually stated that the Russian Government is working on a response.  So we’ll see where that goes.

As the President has repeatedly said, the United States and our allies and partners are committed to providing Ukraine the weapons and equipment they need to defend their nation from Russia’s unprovoked invasion.  So Russia is not going to be able to take advantage of its attempts to leverage either New START or other international legal structures against the U.S. or our allies to prevent us from supporting Ukraine.  But that should not prevent our ability to engage with Russia on the importance of nuclear risk reduction, the importance of arms control to prevent miscalculation and unconstrained arms racing.

So we’ve been making these points very clear and in several communications to Russia.  So we’re hoping that they understand it’s in their interest to engage with us on nuclear risk reduction, preventing unconstrained arms racing, but also it’s in the global interest for us to continue to have these conversations.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, ma’am.  We have a submitted question now.  We – you covered parts of this, but I’ll – I wanted to ask it anyway.  It’s from Paul McLeary from Politico in the U.S.  He asks, “Russia suspended its participation in the treaty in 2007.  So what changes now with the formal withdrawal?  Is there any immediate action the United States or our allies are planning right now?”

ASSISTANT SECRETARY STEWART:  Well, I mean, the most immediate action, of course, is our unified statement of suspension.  So under customary international law specifically reflected in Article 62 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, a state may invoke a fundamental change of circumstances as grounds for suspending the operation of a treaty.  For this doctrine to apply, there must be an unforeseen and fundamental change to the circumstances that existed at the time the treaty was concluded.  Those circumstances must have constituted an essential basis of the parties’ consent to be bound by the treaty, and the effect of the change must be to radically transform the extent of the obligations still to be performed under the treaty.

As a result of Russia’s complete withdrawal from the treaty, in addition to its continuing illegal invasion of Ukraine – another state party to the treaty itself – and allowing its use of the very forces and materiel that was controlled by the treaty to be used against Ukraine in an unconstrained manner, it’s resulted in a legal basis for the remaining CFE states parties to suspend the treaty.

So that is the most immediate result.  I completely agree with the question’s underlying assumption, which is that given Russia has suspended its participation in the treaty in 2007 – in an illegal manner and unjustified manner – nothing is going to substantively change with respect to Russia’s performance under the treaty.  The difference is the rest of the CFE parties, represented by NATO and by several non-NATO parties to CFE, who I understand are also suspending, will not perform the treaty.  So the obligations on those states under the treaty will be suspended and Russia will not get a continuing advantage of being part of a treaty, and now withdrawing from a treaty but allowing itself to receive the information, the transparency, and allowing the restraints of the treaty to apply to those remaining states parties.  In the suspension of the treaty, that’s the factual change for the remaining parties that have chosen to suspend.

So I think that is reflecting something significant as a result of the withdrawal.  But we understand that Russia itself has been in violation of the treaty for many years, so that itself has not changed.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Assistant Secretary.  I want to leave the floor open here for three seconds or so to see if there’s any other questions, either in the question chat or if anybody would like to ask another question live.  Give it a couple of seconds here.

Alex, please go ahead with a follow-up.  Alex, are you – was that a hand up or no?  Yes, please go ahead.

QUESTION:  Yes, I apologize.  Thank you so much for the opportunity.  Madam Assistant Secretary, you mentioned that the U.S. suspension will take effect on December 7th.  Is there anything you can give us in terms of what we should expect between now and December 7th in terms of U.S. – you have a couple of weeks left, your participation in this treaty?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY STEWART:  I think I understand your question, Alex, to be what we’re going to continue to do before the 7th.  Is that right?

QUESTION:  Yeah, between now and the 7th, December 7th.  First of all, why December 7th was determined for a final day, and what should we expect between now and then?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY STEWART:  Yeah, no, thank you for the question.  Given sort of the significance of the situation, in light of the fundamental change of circumstances, given that Russia is continuing its onslaught against Ukraine, we had to pick an appropriate notice period for our statement of suspension, and a month was deemed, I think, a good amount of time to allow notice for the activity and to give the treaty implementation entity at the OSCE and elsewhere a chance to get ahead of the fact that we’re collectively suspending the treaty.  And so there may be different times for the various countries that have indicated their decision to suspend as to when that suspension will become effective.

For the United States, we thought a month was a good amount of notice.  In light of the circumstances, it is consistent to provide some notice for the suspension under customary international law.  And this amount of time, in our mind, reflected the important nature of this decision and the national security implications of, again, denying Russia an advantage from its continued illegal behavior.  But December 7th was the date that made the most sense across the board, both legally and in substance.

But what we’re going to continue to do before then, of course, is engage in the OSCE and elsewhere through the treaty mechanisms to communicate and effectively work to understand the meaning of the suspension across the board for the treaty structures that are in place.  And so there’s a lot of administrative work that will go into our conversations with treaty partners before the December 7th effective date of our suspension.

QUESTION:  Makes sense.  Thanks so much.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, ma’am.  We still have time for another question if there is another question out there.  We’ll leave it 30 seconds to see.

It looks like the questions have been answered.  So with that, we’ll move towards closing the call.  Thank you all for your questions.  Thanks for participating.  And especially thank you, Assistant Secretary Stewart, for taking the time to talk with us today.

Shortly we will send an audio recording of the briefing to all participating journalists and provide a transcript as soon as it is available.  We’d also love to hear your feedback, and you can contact us at any time at TheBrusselsHub – one word –  Thanks again to everyone for your participation, and we hope you can join us for another press briefing in the future.  This ends today’s briefing.


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U.S. Department of State

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