Moderator: Good afternoon from the U.S. State Department’s Brussels Media Hub. I’d like to welcome all participants to today’s telephonic press briefing. Today, we are very honored to be joined by Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman.
We will begin today’s call with opening remarks by Deputy Secretary Sherman and then we will turn to your questions. We will do our best to get to as many as possible in the time that we have today, which is approximately 30 minutes.
As a reminder, today’s call is on the record. And with that, I will turn it over to Deputy Secretary Sherman for opening remarks. Please go ahead, ma’am.
Deputy Secretary Sherman: Thanks very much. Good afternoon, good morning, good evening, wherever you are. Thank you all so much for joining me today.
I just concluded three days of engagements here in Switzerland, first in Geneva, where I led a U.S. interagency delegation to the Strategic Stability Dialogue with Russia, and then in Bern, where I was pleased to inaugurate the U.S.-Switzerland Strategic Partnership Dialogue with State Secretary Livia Leu.
With thanks to the Swiss Government, earlier this year President Biden and President Putin met in Geneva and agreed to embark on an integrated, deliberate, and robust Strategic Stability Dialogue between the United States and Russia. This week was our second plenary meeting held in Geneva. The two delegations had a substantive conversation and we were able to announce in a joint statement that we are forming two interagency expert working groups: a Working Group on Principles and Objectives for Future Arms Control, and a Working Group on Capabilities and Actions with Strategic Effects. These expert working groups will be able to dig into the details on a wide range of issues of importance to the two delegations ahead of our next plenary meeting.
The Strategic Stability Dialogue also demonstrates how the United States is committed to engagement, even with those countries, like Russia, with whom we have very serious disagreements. Despite our differences, the United States and Russia both recognize that it is the responsibility of great powers to come together and to try to solve problems where we can, and that is what we are doing with the Strategic Stability Dialogue.
As I said, following the SSD I traveled to Bern, where I was honored to inaugurate the U.S.-Switzerland Strategic Partnership Dialogue. The relationship between the United States and Switzerland is based on a strong foundation of common democratic values, a shared respect for the rule of law, our commitment to upholding human rights, and robust trade, commercial, and people-to-people ties. State Secretary Leu and I had a productive discussion on issues that are important to our relationship, including trade, cybersecurity, and the climate crisis, and we also spoke about global geopolitical issues where we have shared interests, including Afghanistan, Iran, Russia, and the People’s Republic of China.
We are grateful for Switzerland’s partnership as we work together to ensure continued safe access to Afghanistan and the Afghan people for humanitarian aid and humanitarian aid workers. The United Nations has warned that 1 million Afghan children are at risk of starvation due to the political chaos and economic crisis in Afghanistan. We are very glad that more than $1 billion in humanitarian assistance pledges were made at a UN conference in Geneva in September, including a Swiss pledge of 60 million Swiss francs over the next 16 months. We’re also working closely with Switzerland to press the Taliban to live up to their commitments on counterterrorism, on ensuring safe and orderly travel for Afghans and foreign nationals, and on respecting human rights, including the rights of women and children. It is critical that we speak with one voice on these issues, and we welcome Switzerland’s continued leadership [inaudible].
On Iran, the United States deeply values Switzerland for acting as our protecting power in that country. Switzerland has played a central role in working to obtain the release of wrongfully detained U.S. citizens in Iran for 40 years – work that continues to this day. And Switzerland is also a critical partner to the United States as we remain committed to the path of meaningful diplomacy to achieve a mutual return to compliance of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Finally, of course, we discussed the People’s Republic of China and how, as democracies and as strong believers in the importance of a transparent, rules-based international order to enable peace and prosperity around the world, the United States and Switzerland must work together with our allies and partners to uphold our values and principles, including around human rights.
Following the Strategic Partnership Dialogue, I was pleased to be able to pay a courtesy call to Foreign Minister Cassis and to thank him for Switzerland’s leadership in promoting dialogue and diplomacy on all of these pressing global issues. Today’s conversations reaffirm the strong bilateral cooperation between the United States and Switzerland, and I am glad to say that both countries are committed to seeing dialogue – such dialogues happen more regularly and to continue to work together on shared priorities.
I want to briefly highlight one of those priorities, and that is the urgent need to build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic, in our countries and around the world, making sure we have a well-educated, highly skilled workforce. A workforce ready to perform the jobs of the 21st century is absolutely key to building back better. I just came to this call from a terrific roundtable discussion with Swiss State Secretary for Education, Research, and Innovation Martina Hirayama and representatives from several Swiss companies that operate apprenticeship programs in the United States. The United States has many successful, high-quality apprenticeship programs in the building and construction trades, but the Swiss model shows how young people can learn while they earn in a much broader range of industries, including healthcare, IT, and financial services. The U.S. and Switzerland signed an MOU on apprenticeships in 2015, and I am pleased to say our governments are making good progress right now on updating that MOU. Expanding high-quality and registered apprenticeships in more industries and for more Americans is a priority for President Biden because investing in our nation’s young people will make the United States stronger at home and abroad.
Finally, while we did not discuss our defense ties today, I do want to take the opportunity to note our appreciation for the Federal Council’s selection of the F-35 and Patriot systems to modernize Swiss air defense and Swiss security. With these selections, Switzerland will join the large and experienced consortium of nations in Europe and around the world who recognize the superior quality and value of these systems, and we will build on more than a half century of cooperation in support of Switzerland’s sovereign security.
With that, I am happy to take your questions.
Moderator: Thank you very much for those remarks. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call.
Our first question comes to us from Stephane Bussard with Le Temps newspaper in Switzerland. Please go ahead.
Question: Yes, thank you. Thank you, Deputy Secretary, for holding this briefing. I have a question about the U.S.-Russia Strategic Dialogue. What have you been able to achieve in Geneva yesterday, and what actually the Strategic Dialogue will include in the future in terms of will it include cybersecurity, space, and artificial intelligence as well as new weapons? Thank you very much.
Deputy Secretary Sherman: Sure. The dialogue covers the full range of issues. Both Russia and the United States are able to put on the table whatever they wish to discuss in a broad area that includes more traditional arms control, conventional weapons, new kinds of weaponry, artificial intelligence, cyberspace, though there are cyber discussions that happen in other channels as well. Really, everything you can imagine in this broad arena of arms control capabilities, principles, and strategic effects of weapons.
Arms control dialogues take a very long time. It’s highly technical. I come to these dialogues with a very robust interagency team. I guess it’s close to 20 or 30 people. They – as do the Russians. We have people from the Pentagon, from the Department of Energy, from the Joint Staff, from the State Department, and from all parts of the State Department, from the White House. And the Russian delegation likewise is quite diverse and representing the full range of interests in the Russian Government.
So we have very robust and detailed discussions, and we are very glad that we were able to issue this joint statement announcing two working groups that can begin to do – dig in and do some of the work that is needed.
The dialogue has a value in and of itself because it unveils norms that we both believe in and want to establish as the two largest powers that have nuclear weapons, and the largest number of nuclear weapons. So it’s very good in and of itself, but we all hope that we head to achieving some objectives about moving forward. Our presidents in their statement when they met talked about laying the groundwork for the future of New START as one example, and so that is on the table as well.
Moderator: Great, thank you very much. Our next question was emailed to us in advance. This is from Georg Häsler with NZZ. His question is: “What are sort of the reasons for the partnership with Switzerland? Are you looking for more responsibility from European states on security issues, since the U.S. is focused on Asia?”
Deputy Secretary Sherman: Well, the U.S., first of all, is focused on the world because we have relationships all over the world, in every hemisphere, on every continent. It’s quite critical, and our relationship and our U.S.-Swiss partnership is really longstanding and we want to continue to build on the success of that longstanding partnership towards global prosperity and stability. We have common values. We share rigorous economic links and we see the world in the same way while respecting each other’s governments and governing models, which are somewhat different.
We also deeply value Switzerland’s role as our protecting power in Iran, appreciate Switzerland hosting the U.S.-Russia summit in Geneva and the subsequent discussions that are following on in Geneva. We seek to deepen our strategic partnership to promote democracy and human rights, advance investment opportunities in infrastructure in clean technology – Switzerland was the first country to do a commitment towards climate – enhance, expand apprenticeships for American workers, further strengthen our cooperation in cyber defense, and as I said, partner together as we head to COP26 with Switzerland truly understanding how critical it is to address climate change.
Moderator: Great, thank you very much for that. Our next question comes to us from Fabienne Kinzelmann with Blick in Switzerland. Please go ahead, ma’am.
Question: Hi. You said it’s a goal to strengthen the relationship with Switzerland. At the same time, the U.S. still doesn’t have an ambassador to Bern. Why has Scott Miller not yet been confirmed?
Deputy Secretary Sherman: Oh, you are asking a $60 million question. We have a very complex system in the United States where people are identified to go to a country through a very complex process. If you’re a career Foreign Service officer, you go through a D Committee, which I chair, which takes some time. Then your background is looked at very carefully. Then you have a hearing in front of the United States Senate. You have to get voted out of the committee, then you have to get voted on the floor of the United States Senate, where any senator can actually put a hold on you for a while and then it takes time to get floor time for a vote.
I know I’m telling you details that don’t matter to anyone except the people going through it, and so it can be a very long process, and over the years it’s become a longer and longer process. So Switzerland is not being singled out. We have a structural issue to get people nominated, through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and confirmed, and we have a couple of senators right now that have put a hold on our nominees, so it takes more floor time to get them confirmed. We just got a few more people confirmed and I hope that we soon can move through those who have been nominated to be ambassadors all over the world. It’s quite critical. We’re very lucky to have a very competent and capable chargé d’affaires here, so I don’t think that Switzerland is missing a beat in its relationship with the United States while Switzerland awaits the confirmed ambassador. We’re going to make it happen as soon as we possibly can.
Moderator: Great, thank you very much. Our next question comes to us from Will Mauldin with The Wall Street Journal. Please go ahead.
Question: Thank you so much for having this, and safe travels. I wanted to ask about the upcoming parts of the trip – Uzbekistan, India, and Pakistan if I’m correct. I’m wondering in Pakistan what you would look for in terms of Pakistan’s relationship to the Taliban and Afghanistan; in Uzbekistan, whether there’s room for any cooperation in terms of military cooperation or using air bases; and then in India, what would be the goal or the main focus, I guess, for your time in New Delhi? Thank you.
Deputy Secretary Sherman: Thanks. I’m going to start backwards. We have an incredibly strong relationship with India. As you know, the President just hosted the Quad leaders meeting in Washington and had a bilateral with Prime Minister Modi. We – India is a very profound democracy that really is a center for a lot of innovation, development, and change, and we partner very strongly with India as an essential democracy that shares our values, where we have a strong trade relationship, defense relationship, values relationship. So that will be a trip that will be both in New Delhi and in Mumbai with official meetings as well as meetings with civil society, the business community, and really deepen what is an essential relationship not only in Asia but worldwide.
I’m starting from Bern to go to Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan is a highly valued strategic partner with whom we’re collaborating in a number of key areas, including regional security, climate change, economic connectivity, and human rights. We welcome Uzbekistan’s leadership on Afghanistan. We support the Government of Uzbekistan’s reform agenda, and they’ve made just tremendous progress. In December 2020, Uzbekistan was removed from the Special Watch List for governments that engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom because Uzbekistan has made significant and concrete progress, and we want to affirm that progress as we move to salute countries that are democracies or trying to move towards more democratic reform. You know that the President will be holding a Summit for Democracy to raise up the values and the processes we need to make sure that people can live lives of prosperity and freedom. Our relationship with Uzbekistan is a 30-year-old bilateral relationship, and I look forward to my meetings there.
In Pakistan, we’ve always viewed Pakistan as – a strong, prosperous, and democratic Pakistan as critical to U.S. interests. We welcome Pakistan’s calls for the Taliban to form an inclusive government and for the Taliban to uphold their commitments. We remain ready to work with Pakistan to meet its stated commitments to combat militant and terrorist groups without distinction. We support strengthening the economic ties between our countries and to improve access to energy, grow our agricultural trade, and address some longstanding challenges that stand in the way of expanding commerce.
So we have – these are three countries that matter a great deal regionally and, certainly in the case of India, to the world. We want to deepen our relationships and really urge on democratic reforms that will bring greater prosperity to the people in countries as well as greater prosperity to the world.
Moderator: Great, thank you very much for that. Our next question comes to us from Dmitry Kirsanov with the TASS News Agency. Please go ahead.
Question: Hi. Thank you so very much for doing the call, Madam Secretary. Both the Russians and the French are talking about useful it would be to convene a P5 summit meeting. The French are specifically calling for discussing key arms control and collective security issues in this format. Is this something that the United States would like to do? Are you ready to take part in such a summit meeting?
And unrelated to strategic stability, if I may, when can we expect to see at least some normalization of U.S. visa issuance to Russia’s nationals? As a result of pandemic restrictions and this visa war playing out between the two nations, virtually all of Russia’s citizens have now practically lost the ability to travel to the U.S., I think. It’s just impacting people-to-people ties. Does the U.S. intend to do something about this? Thank you.
Deputy Secretary Sherman: So, first of all, starting in November people can travel to the United States if they are vaccinated. So the way that people will be able to travel will change starting in November. Yes, there are visa issues that are being discussed between our two countries, but I believe there is a commitment by both of our countries to resolve those issues as soon as we possibly can.
As for the P5 meeting, there was actually a P5 meeting at the UN General Assembly High-Level Week at the ministerial level. So Secretary Blinken was engaged in that P5 meeting, and I think we find such discussions at appropriate times very valuable.
Moderator: Great, thank you very much for that. Our next question comes to us via email. This was sent to us in advance. This is from Ilja Tüchter with Die Rheinpfalz newspaper in Germany. “When will the remainder of evacuees from Afghanistan be transferred to the U.S. from overseas military sites such as Ramstein Air Force Base? Is capacity at installations in the U.S. an issue or is this mainly an issue of CDC guidance on measles and COVID?”
Deputy Secretary Sherman: Well, [inaudible] on this one, as everyone knows, helping people leave Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban takeover was a very difficult process. Working together, including with Germany and Switzerland and many, many, many countries, including all of the ones that we’ve talked about today so far, in the space of about 17 days 124,000 people were able to travel safely out of Afghanistan. That work goes on. Countries are continuing to ensure that there’s safe and orderly travel outside of Afghanistan, certainly in the case of America, where American citizens are concerned, legally permanent – LPRs, legal permanent residents, SIVs, those with special visas, as well as Afghans at risk. And Germany has done likewise to help its nationals.
Among the many challenges that the international community has faced, one that we did not anticipate was measles, and there was a measles outbreak and so public health authorities decided that it was critical that everyone at these transit hubs, including at Ramstein, get vaccinated for measles to protect them and to make sure that we didn’t have an epidemic. And public health officials also decided they needed to stay for a few days to make sure that that vaccination took hold and they would be safe and their families would be safe and the people they were traveling with would be safe. So as soon as that time period is up, people will be moving out and some already are. I am – the United States is incredibly grateful to Germany for hosting so many people who have left Afghanistan and really providing extraordinary support. So we’re very grateful and very sorry that measles slowed down the process of putting Ramstein back into regular order. It will happen soon.
Moderator: Our next question comes to us from Shaun Tandon with AFP. Please go ahead.
Question: Hi there, thanks for doing this. Can I follow up on my colleague Will’s question? I wanted to ask a little bit more about the Pakistan stop that’s coming up. As you know, Prime Minister Khan has made a series of statements in recent days saying essentially that Pakistan has been falsely blamed for the Taliban taking over and for its policies in Afghanistan. I wanted to see if that’s a conversation you’re eager to have in Pakistan if you see that as being part of the discussions, and his calls, the Pakistani Government’s calls for negotiations or for engagement with the Taliban and with militants at home – is that something that the U.S. supports? What else could be asked potentially of Pakistan? Thanks.
Deputy Secretary Sherman: Sure. Pakistan has a lot to gain from a peaceful and stable Afghanistan. Therefore it’s vital that Pakistan continues taking constructive steps towards that goal. What we seek is a solid partnership with Pakistan on counterterrorism, and we expect sustained action against all militant and terrorist groups without distinction. Both of our countries have suffered terribly from the scourge of terrorism, and we look forward to cooperative efforts to eliminate all regional and global terrorist threats.
As we all have said, we’ve been in regular touch with the Pakistani leadership and we’ve discussed Afghanistan in detail. Pakistan took part in a ministerial in September and we’ll continue to engage in Islamabad, as I will do on this trip. Secretary Blinken also met with Foreign Minister Qureshi on the – on September 23rd on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly High-Level Week, and they discussed the way forward in Afghanistan and the importance of coordinating our diplomatic engagement and facilitating the departure of those wishing to leave Afghanistan. We are glad that Pakistan frequently and publicly calls for an inclusive government with broad support in Afghanistan, and we look to Pakistan to play a critical role in enabling that outcome.
Moderator: Thank you very much. Our next question comes to us from Klaus Proempers in Austria. Please go ahead.
Question: Thank you for doing this, Wendy Sherman. The question I have is concerning the strategic dialogue. Do you foresee any possibility to have a strategic dialogue as well with China in the future despite all the problems the U.S. has actually with China?
Deputy Secretary Sherman: So I don’t [inaudible] term of strategic dialogue with China. I do see engagement with China. As I think you know, I myself was asked by the Secretary to go to Tianjin to meet with State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and with Vice Minister Xie Feng. I met with China’s, PRC’s ambassador to Washington. We know that President Biden recently had a call with President Xi, and in that call discussed how they might have further discussions.
We have said repeatedly that our relationship with the PRC is a complex one. We will compete vigorously for the prosperity of our people in the years ahead, and we want to do so on a level playing field, and we will point out along with our allies and partners when the PRC is not playing on a level playing field. It was exactly that level playing field that helped enable them to become the country they are today and to become a more prosperous country. We had discussions here in Switzerland about China and the Swiss have put out a Chinese – a strategy towards the PRC that certainly wants to have a positive relationship, but at the same time understands that economic coercion is not acceptable in the international community, that abandonment of human rights is not something that is acceptable in the international community.
So we seek vigorous competition, but on a level playing field. We will challenge the PRC when we must and we will look for areas of cooperation where we can find it. In fact, when I was in Tianjin, I was then on my way to the first Strategic Stability Dialogue in Geneva with Russia, and I said to my Chinese interlocutors we disagree, Russia and we, on many, many, many things, and yet here we are cooperating to try to ensure that the two largest nuclear powers in the world make sure that the world stays safe. So we ought to be able to find those areas where we can cooperate together.
So there is a long road here, but engagement is certainly part of it.
Moderator: Thank you very much. We have time for one final question, and that will go to Michail Ignatiou with Hellas Journal. Please go ahead.
Question: Thank you, Ms. Sherman. Good morning from Washington. I have a question on Russia-Turkey. Mr. Erdogan just returned to Ankara from Sochi. He said that he is going to buy a new set of S-400s, warplanes, submarines, and build with Russia two more nuclear power plants. I think he acts and reacts like an enemy of the United States. I don’t think that he considers himself as an ally of the United States, but a friend to Russia and Iran. Can you tell us, please, one reason why the State Department thinks that this guy is an ally of America?
Deputy Secretary Sherman: I believe – I didn’t understand all of your question, but I believe you were asking about President Erdogan and Turkey. Is that correct?
Question: Turkey and his friendship with Russia.
Deputy Secretary Sherman: Uh-huh.
Question: As you may hear, he is going to buy a new set of S-400s. He is going to buy warplanes.
Deputy Secretary Sherman: That’s what he said. That’s what he said.
Deputy Secretary Sherman: Yes, he did.
Question: This is not the —
Deputy Secretary Sherman: Let’s start with the basics here. Turkey is a NATO ally. They are a valuable member of NATO. NATO is a security organization that has helped keep Europe and the world safe, and indeed, NATO’s very famous Article 5, which says an attack on one is an attack on all, has been invoked only once, and that was after 9/11 for NATO to go into Afghanistan with the United States and with everyone else.
We know that President Erdogan said that they might consider and have the right to consider any weapons system, including the S-400. This is an ongoing issue. We urge – we’ve urged Turkey at every level and opportunity not to retain the S-400 system and refrain from purchasing any additional Russian military equipment. We continue to make that clear to Turkey and what the consequences will be if they move in that direction. We believe as a NATO [inaudible] that such systems are not compatible or operable with NATO systems.
Turkey is a challenge sometimes. I’m sure they find the United States a challenge at times. But they are a valued NATO ally. They are also a host to millions of Syrian refugees. They have built a robust economy. When it came to the Kabul airport, to ensure that people could leave, Turkey helped to stand up the airport. And yes, they have complex relationships with lots of countries, as do we. And we are – we don’t hesitate to call out countries when we think, whether it’s human rights [inaudible] what choices they make when we believe that they’re not in our interests or the interests of the world. But we also call out countries for the value they bring to their relationship with us and with the world, and Turkey is a valued NATO partner and we look forward to continuing to build that relationship with all of its complexity and sometimes its challenges.
Moderator: Thank you very much. Unfortunately, that was indeed the last question we have time for today. Deputy Secretary Sherman, do you have any closing words you’d like to offer?
Deputy Secretary Sherman: Just thank you all for joining today. Part of what’s important about the State Department and all of my interagency colleagues is that we work together as a team. One of the things about the Biden-Harris administration that is really super – and this is the third president for whom I’ve worked, and the fourth or fifth secretary of state; I don’t remember – is that this is really a team. Throughout the government, whatever challenge is in front of us, we work together to try to solve it, bring prosperity and security and freedom to the American people, and to work as we have over the last three days with our Swiss partners to work together to bring the best for the most people all over the world.
So thank you very much. And I am headed off tomorrow to Tashkent for the challenging trip that you all have asked about today, and I look forward to talking to you again sometime. Thank you.
Moderator: I’d like to thank Deputy Secretary Sherman for joining us and wish her safe travels, and thank all of the reporters on the line for your participation and for your questions.