Remarks at the Center for American Studies (CSA)
Deputy Secretary of State
It’s a great pleasure for our institute to host this event because we have the opportunity to know from such an important figure of the U.S. Administration his point of view over many international hot dossiers [such] as Ukraine, North Africa and Middle East. Although our countries share a lot of common values and are strong allies in foreign policy and defense as well, it’s however important from my point of view to discuss such delicate and current international issues.
Faced with a global and diversified threat and paying attention to the request of its citizens to improve their level of security, Europe is moving with growing determination to implement a common defense system. The European military organization and the defense industries are preparing themselves to unify their resources following the political choices of their respective governments. Italy will play a leading role in this next scenario and for this reason we are very proud to be able to offer tonight the opportunity to discuss those matters with John Sullivan in a special place as the Center for American Studies, where is possible to spread our culture and to share our vision of the future.
The Center for American Studies has a long experience and a consolidated tradition in handling this kind of job. I would like to remember and to underline that this year we are going to celebrate the first century anniversary of our library, [which] is one of the largest in Europe for American Studies. After 100 years we are still committed [to] promoting and developing the relationship with the U.S. in a framework of traditional friendship.
Our first effort is to talk with the young generations, to engage public institutions, to interest the private sector. Our goals, Mr. Sullivan, are realized thanks to the strong cooperation with the American Embassy in Rome, we are particularly grateful to the U.S. Mission, to the Ambassador and to our friend Kelly Degnan, the Deputy, she is very close to us. Thank you Kelly, and thank you even to your staff. Now I’d like to leave the floor to Mr. Sullivan, and thank you again to be here with us tonight.
DEPUTY SECRETARY SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. President, it’s a great honor to be here tonight at the Center for American Studies. I’ve heard so much about it for so long, it’s taken me too long to get here to actually see it for myself and to meet all of you and speak with you, but better late than never.
My purpose in coming here to Rome is to reaffirm, as the President said, the importance of the relationship between the United States and Italy. We have millions of my fellow Americans who trace their ancestry to Italy, we have four million or more Americans who visit Italy every year, a million or more Italians who visit the United States every year. Italy is among our ten largest trading partners. I could list all the statistics but you all know them so well. What binds us is our history, our values and our culture. And as I was saying to my colleagues right before I came in here, I know everyone is anticipating the election on March 4. We in the United States will have mid-term elections this November, but no matter what the results of those elections are, no matter which party wins, no matter which party controls our Congress, the relationship between the United States and Italy will always remain strong because of those shared values, our shared history, our shared culture.
The Americans who were sacrificed here during the Second World War, who paid the ultimate sacrifice and who are buried here, that’s a stake, that’s a part of the United States that’s not going anywhere. That history, those values, that culture is what we share. Beyond that, we have many, many shared interests in our current policies, foreign policies, and I’m happy to discuss those this evening.
My trip started last week. On Friday I went to the Munich Security Conference and the purpose of my trip is to reaffirm the importance of the Transatlantic relationship between the United States and NATO, between the United States and the EU. That relationship, just as the bilateral relationship between the United States and Italy, that bilateral relationship – the larger relationship – between the United State and Europe is likewise unshakable. The shared bonds, the shared culture, the history, the traditions, our commitment to the liberal trading regime that has developed over the last 70 years, our commitment to democracy is unshakable.
And that was the ultimate, overriding purpose of my visit. Secretary Tillerson sent me here to convey that message in Munich and then here, my first stop after Munich, in Rome. Let me briefly touch on some of the issues that I’ve been discussing with my interlocutors in the Italian government, where we have some mutual concerns, and then I’d like to turn it over to questions for the audience and have more of dialogue rather than my just speaking at you.
Starting with what I know is a very important concern for the Italian government, which is Libya. The United States and Italy are committed to a political solution to the serious problems that we see in Libya; problems that resulted in the migration crisis that the Italian government has done so much to stop and alleviate: [it has] been a leader in that. We in the United States are committed to the mission of the UN Secretary General’s special representative Mr. Salamé to forge a political solution to the political and security and immigration problems that we see in Libya. There’s obviously a military component, a counter-terrorism component, to our mission there, but ultimately for success, there must be a political solution.
Moving a little further south to the Sahel, my trip here this week will conclude in Brussels at the donor conference for the Sahel G5, a force which the United States very firmly supports. And of course Italy is very committed to the security mission, [it’s] going to increase its support to Niger and the counter-terrorism mission in the Sahel and the broader region, and [for] economic and political development as well.
Again, the United States and Italy are in close alignment in our policies. We confront a very dangerous and unsettled situation in Ukraine. We are committed to supporting the Ukrainian government [and] President Poroshenko, we are encouraging reform in Kyiv, but ultimately we support the Ukrainian government and support them in the difficult situation they face with forces in Eastern Ukraine and the Donbass supported by Russia, which are doing grave damage, creating humanitarian crises in Eastern Ukraine, which we are united to stop. Again, the Russian annexation of Crimea, which has resulted in sanctions being imposed -- and we are committed to maintaining those sanctions and to implementing the Minsk agreement and reaching a political solution that recognizes the sovereignty of Ukraine and the impermissibility of using violence to force political change.
One more area that I will mention – a couple of more areas – first, Lebanon. The Italian government’s hard work and support of the government in Lebanon, [its] troop commitment to the UNIFIL mission of a thousand Italian personnel, is extremely important to peace, in developing a peaceful resolution of the political situation in Lebanon, which as you know is quite fraught. Moving further east, [to the] support from the Italian government for our mission in Iraq; Italy is the second largest contributor of troops to the counter-ISIS mission in Iraq. Similarly in Afghanistan, [there is] great support from the Italian government, commitment of troops and resources to our Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan.
And finally, the global problem that we confront in North Korea. The development by the DPRK of a nuclear weapon tested six times and of an intercontinental ballistic missile system to deliver that weapon is a global nuclear proliferation concern. It’s not a problem just for the United States or just for South Korea or Japan, it’s a global proliferation concern and we’re most grateful for the support of Italy in firmly implementing the UN Security Council resolutions designed to apply maximum pressure to the regime in Pyongyang, and that support – including the recent decision by the Italian government to decline accreditation to a North Korean diplomat – is very important in keeping the pressure on North Korea so that we address that nuclear proliferation concern.
That’s a brief highlight of some of the issues that I’ve been discussing with our friends and partners here in Rome, and with that overview and my thanks for your welcome here to have this discussion, I’d like to open the dialogue and talk about issues that are of interest to you.
MARTA DASSU (VICE PRESIDENT OF CSA): Thank you very much, Mr. Deputy Secretary, I am Marta Dassu, I’m the Deputy Chair of the Center for American Studies, which is not equally important as your position in the U.S. clearly… Thank you very much for your initial remarks, I will try to moderate the discussion as best as I can. We have a lot of students, we also have experts, I would suggest that we collect a couple of questions each time and if you can raise your hands I can identify you. I see Ambassador Ferdinando Nelli Feroci, who is the Chair of IAI, Istituto Afari Internazionali. If you could please kindly introduce yourselves.
QUESTION: Mr. Deputy Secretary of State, thank you very much for your presentation. There is one subject nevertheless that you did not mention explicitly in your presentation, and that is Iran. And I’m sure that you discussed probably at length Iran in Munich. Now, Iran is a preoccupation also in Europe, but as you sure have noticed there is a risk, which is a source of great concern for us in Europe, of divergent attitudes between the U.S. and Europe on the future in particular of the nuclear deal. Now, the Europeans reacted to the decision of President Trump not to [certify] the implementation of the agreement last November in a very straightforward manner, and the idea is that as far as Europe is concerned, we should stick to the agreement. But we’re also aware of the concerns of the American Administration, and we’ll introduce something to smooth the situation and possibly save the agreement and avoid the adoption of further sanctions by the U.S. which may affect directly our own interest. So what, to come to the question -- my question is very simple -- what could realistically the Europeans do to help facilitate maintenance of the agreement and avoid a decision that would harm also relations between the U.S. and Europe? Thank you.
MARTA DASSU: Ferdinando, I would collect another question and then I give the floor to you, please. Viviana, you’re a student so, please…
QUESTION: Hi, I’m Viviana Bianchi, PhD student of political studies from La Sapienza University. I would like to ask about Ukraine, that is one of the topics that you touched during these days in Rome, so President Trump defined Russia as a rival in his State of the Union address. Since you are visiting Ukraine in the next days, how this rivalry will affect U.S. policy in Eastern Europe and which role NATO will play in the confrontation with Moscow? Thank you.
DEPUTY SECRETARY SULLIVAN: Well, I’ll start…Is this on? OK, I’ll start with the JCPOA and Iran. Let me provide a little bit of background, my view of how I approach this issue. First, the JCPOA is, as our Defense Secretary, Secretary Mattis described it, as an arms control agreement, a flawed arms control agreement. It’s a small slice of our larger relationship that the United States has with Iran. The United States is still implementing the JCPOA, there are a couple of features or our domestic law that the Congress has passed that affect our, the certification that you mentioned that President Trump must give. It’s related to the fact that, again, we’ve got a flawed – in our view – arms control agreement that wasn’t presented to the U.S. Senate for ratification as a treaty. It’s an executive agreement that the United States has executed. As a consequence of that, the Congress passed a statute which imposed some conditions on the President in certifying that the agreement is still, remains, in the national interest of the United States to continue to implement. What President Trump has said is that there are a number of other issues in that broader relationship that we have with Iran, concerns that we have with Iran. Their ballistic missile program for example which isn’t addressed in the JCPOA, malign influence in the region, in Yemen, in Syria, in Lebanon, where the Italian government, were Italy has a very significant influence, those are issued that we want to address. What the President has said is that [before] the upcoming deadline of May 12 when he must again issue another certification he wants to see a commitment by our European allies to address these concerns. We don’t have to reach another agreement with Iran by May 12. There really isn’t time for that. What we’re looking for is a discussion with our European allies on these issues of concern to us, to correct the flaws that we see, the issues that we see in our relationship with Iran, show movement on those issues and commitment by our allies to work with us in addressing those issues so that we can then take that to President Trump and on May 12 he will continue to certify our implementation of the agreement on the understanding that we are going to – with our allies – correct these flaws in the agreement. So that’s our approach. We are working hard with our allies to, here in Europe, to address it. It has been a topic of my conversations today at the Foreign Ministry and elsewhere, and we are going to work hard to get to a place by May 12 where we have a road, a path to correcting the flaws that we see in the JCPOA, issues that weren’t addressed like ballistic missiles, and then if we do that, we continue to implement the agreement and address those other issues.
The second question was about Ukraine and Russia. We have got a – our European allies and the United States have a problem in Ukraine with Russia. Russia’s influence in Eastern Ukraine, its annexation of Crimea is simply unacceptable, we can’t accept changing borders by violence in the 21st century, it’s just unacceptable. We’ve imposed – we and the West, the EU, the United States, others – have imposed sanctions on Russia as a result of that behavior. We’ve also reached agreement in Minsk on a way forward to address this, this problem. Our approach is to implement the Minsk agreement, to reach a political solution to this problem, but to not allow these acts of aggression to stand. We want sanctions to continue until there is a resolution of these issues and until Crimea’s no longer under Russian control, until the violence subsides and the Russian influence creating that, and sponsoring that violence in Eastern Ukraine and the Donbass subsides. So we’re looking for a political solution, we’re looking for more cooperation and discussions with Russia on this, in conjunction with our allies, it’s a topic that I’ve discussed at length today with my interlocutors in the Italian government.
MARTA DASSU: Thank you very much. A question from journalism, Antonio di Bella, Director of RAI News.
QUESTION: Thank you. The Obama Administration’s policy, foreign policy, has been defined as “leading from behind,” I would like – how would you define the new Trump policy, foreign policy, and the room for Italy and Europe for this new type of approach.
MARTA DASSU: The second one, I need a student. Please.
QUESTION: Good evening, my name is Leonardo Rivalenti from John Cabot University. My question basically concerned, was about whether the United States might be interested in appointing a single Ambassador for the whole European Union, given the progressive – given the process of gradual integration of the block and whether, yes, this might be or not in the interest of the U.S.A. Thank you.
MARTA DASSU: They already have him, in theory… OK.
DEPUTY SECRETARY SULLIVAN: OK. Europe and our allies in Europe, and their relationship to the Trump Administration. I can offer personal testimony to this. I was selected originally by Secretary Mattis to serve at the U.S. Department of Defense. I’m a lawyer by training and I had served previously in the Defense Department as the Deputy General Counselor of the Department in the President George W. Bush Administration. And I was contacted by Secretary Mattis before the President’s inauguration on January 20th, he was inquiring about my interest in serving at the Department and I had a conversation with him, and the first thing he said to me unsolicited in a job interview was not a question about me, but a statement about the importance of our allies. And I was taken aback a little bit, because I’d read what some of the commentary on the incoming Trump Administration and what Secretary Mattis said to me was that the United States is a rich and powerful nation because we have allies. He would much rather be Secretary of Defense in Washington because of the strength of our alliances than the equivalent position in Moscow or Beijing. The United States has -- to the extent that we have succeeded in supporting the Western system, the trading system, the political systems that we have -- we’ve done so because we have allies. We triumphed in the Second World War over Fascism and Nazism because we had allies. We supported the Soviet Union in its struggle against the Nazi invasion, we supported them as an ally. The United States needs allies, depend on its allies and will always support its allies. Our commitment to Article Five of the North Atlantic Treaty is unquestioned. I know that there was media questioning of this, Secretary Mattis told me straight up to not pay attention to what was said in the media, that the United States is committed to its allies, to Article Five and particularly to our NATO allies.
Moving my personal situation along another step, my nomination – I was nominated for this positon at the Defense Department and I got a call out of the blue in mid-March of last year to go meet with Secretary Tillerson. And I asked why, and they told me that he wanted to speak to me about being the Deputy Secretary of State. And I picked my jaw off the floor and said well, I’ve already had a conversation with Secretary Mattis about serving at the Defense Department, they told me that Secretary Tillerson had spoken to Secretary Mattis and I was authorized to come and speak with him. The first thing Secretary Tillerson talked to me about was the importance of our allies. Both men, the two most important – I think, from a national security and foreign policy perspective – the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense, they place primary importance on the strength of our alliances. That’s the strength, the underlying bedrock of our strength as a nation, our strength as an alliance. I’m here because Secretary Tillerson said, “You need to go to the Munich Security Conference, then you need to go to Rome, then you need to go to Kyiv, then Riga, and then Brussels to support our alliance, to support our relationship with Italy, to support our commitment to NATO and to our allies and partners in the EU.” That’s why I’m here. And it’s of great importance to me that I convey this to my interlocutors in the Italian government, I’ve said that, as I said in my opening remarks, our relationship, our bilateral relationship with Italy, no matter who’s in the White House, is going to be strong because of our cultural, historical, political, and economic relationships, but more than that, in this Administration we are working very closely with the Italian government on all these other issues. Yes, we have some disagreements, some differences in emphasis or approach, but overall as I look at all the issues that we need to address in the United States in implementing our foreign policy, we agree far more than we disagree with our Italian colleagues. So I hope that this is reassuring, and I’ve forgotten, oh, the second question.
MARTA DASSU: How is it that you don’t still have an Ambassador to the European Union?
DEPUTY SECRETARY SULLIVAN: Well, I get asked this question when I got up to testify before Congress a lot. One thing that we haven’t done well in this Administration, at least in the State Department, is getting individuals confirmed for political appointments, ambassadorial appointments. There are a lot of reasons for that, some of them are traditional roadblocks that we run into, this is my – the third President I’ve worked for, the fourth cabinet department I’ve served in, I originally started at the Department of Justice in the Bush 41 Administration, I worked at the Defense Department and the Commerce Department in the Bush 43 Administration, and now at the State Department. So I’ve been through this – I’ve been three times confirmed by the Senate for presidential appointments, and the system is not built for speed. It requires selection by a Cabinet Secretary, well, designation or approval of a Cabinet Secretary for recommendation to go forward to the White House to consider an appointment. The President then ultimately makes the nomination, the Senate then needs to confirm it. It takes a while, in the best of circumstances. Given the somewhat fraught political atmosphere in Washington, things have slowed down even more. This is a long-winded explanation for saying we should have an Ambassador to the EU in place now, we don’t, we’ll have one soon.
MARTA DASSU: OK. Thank you very much. And since you mentioned your experience at the Trade Department, I know that Gianni Castellaneta has a question on that – the economic dimension of your foreign policy. Gianni, please. And I would need a student as a follow-up.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Sullivan. Allow me to put a question that is not specifically the competence of the State Department – due to your previous job at the Commerce Department and also your background as a lawyer. How is evolving the trade policy of the United States after one year, more, of the Trump presidency? Due to the fact that your economy has improved a lot in this year, you know, under President Trump, the stock exchange has raised, you have a weak dollar that in fact facilitates your exports, you have this new corporate tax law that will encourage American firms to repatriate huge amounts of dividends “parked” outside the Unites States. So the thing that is still – your first reaction, America First, and then to pull out from the trade agreement with Pacific states and then to freeze the Transatlantic agreement, and more specifically about the new project about imposing tariffs on steel that will surely provoke a retaliation from China and European Union, even Canada, that I think is the largest exporter of steel in the United States. If you can give us some ideas on the new policies, because ideally in the last year your economy did marvelously well, we are very envious about your performances. Thank you.
MARTA DASSU: OK, very clear. The young lady there.
QUESTION: Nice to meet you, I’m a PhD student at Sapienza University of Rome and actually my PhD is on an ex-Secretary of State who served with Bush Senior, James Addison Baker III. So what I wanted to ask you is that you just reaffirmed U.S. commitment to the – to NATO, its alliance, but the statement that President Trump made last May in Brussels has had some consequences. Not necessarily negative, the consequences are that Europe has given birth to a European defense fund and that it’s looking out to be more – somehow – autonomous though within a strong anchorage to NATO, as Juncker also said today in Munich. And the thing is that – what I want to ask you is, you’re stressing the importance of that Transatlantic relation, but this importance has also to be supported by concrete initiatives, I think. And I think you also foresee the necessity to give some new concreteness, some new actions, to reinforce this important axis. So do you have a roadmap for this, or which are the initiatives that you think has the Administration to put in place to reinforce this axis? Thank you.
MARTA DASSU: Please, Mr. Deputy Secretary.
DEPUTY SECRETARY SULLIVAN: Trade, first you’re right, I think the American economy has performed very well in the first year of the Trump Administration, in our hopes and expectations. Certainly the President is – as a result of the tax legislation that he promoted and signed, we’re hoping for further growth. What he’s focused on in our trade relationship is fairness. Fairness and reciprocity, and that he wants free trade, he wants fair and open trade as well, he’s identified concerns that he’s had and you’ve seen some of these have already had actions on solar panels, and with washing machines, where we thought that there was unfair trade. We’re committed to the open trading system that has developed. With respect to the steel – potential steel tariffs that are under consideration under section 232, again, we’re looking at what is ultimately a problem I believe of oversupply in China, and China’s participation. We’ve welcomed China into the trading system that’s developed over decades by countries in Europe and the United States and elsewhere around the world, we expect China to honor its commitments, to engage in free trade but fair trade, and that we be treated fairly.
So it’s a similar point that I would make with respect to NATO and the defense cooperation between the United States and Europe and NATO. The President is looking for a commitment by our NATO allies, as you know, you’ve heard that two percent commitment mentioned. What it really is it’s a commitment to our shared sacrifice to promote freedom, to protect our free trading system. And in that regard Ukraine is an excellent example. Italy is now – has the Chairman in Office of the OSCE, and we’re looking for Italian leadership for us to work with Italy, with our NATO allies, on addressing this serious problem in the heart of Europe -- a real humanitarian situation in Eastern Ukraine with violence on a daily basis. To address that, and that’s what our Western system has to address, our shared values, our commitment to political solutions and not violence to change borders or change political systems. And we need – we believe – the commitment by our NATO allies not just in word, but with their budget support as well, because we can’t address these security problems without the military muscle to back it up. We need to be – have a credible military response, otherwise there are other powers in this world that will take advantage of what they perceive as political weakness and seek to change borders and impose their will on others who are not interested in that. So, again it’s a question of fairness and accountability, whether it’s a trade or defense relationship.
MARTA DASSU: Reciprocity also? Mutuality. I have a question from you, the lady down there. Thank you.
QUESTION: Hi, Nicole Winfield from the Associated Press. I was wondering, how concerned is the United States about the potential for Russian interference in the upcoming election? And was that a topic of conversation at all in your discussions here in Rome?
DEPUTY SECRETARY SULLIVAN: With the upcoming election on March 4th? It’s a question I’ve asked, as you all know there was an indictment that was handed down last Friday by the [U.S.] special prosecutor, targeting Russian interference in – attempted interference in our election in November 2016. You heard our intelligence chiefs testify recently about the prospect and the threat of that happening again in our midterm elections. It’s a question I’ve asked my Italian interlocutors while I was here today, about their level of concern, and their response has been relatively reassuring, that they believe that there will be a free election that will reflect the will of the Italian people on March 4th, but they’re very cautious and keeping a close eye on any potential for an outside party such as those we saw in November 20... – in the election in the United States in 2016 – interfering so they’re vigilant, but optimistic that they will be able to conduct a free and fair election on March 4th.
MARTA DASSU: Thank you very much. I’ll collect another couple of questions. Pasquale Salzano is our Ambassador in Qatar.
Good evening. A few weeks ago five ministers from Qatar have been to Washington for the first strategic dialogue between U.S. and Qatar, and from the United States, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Treasury have taken part. A very substantial communique has been issued on the crisis and there are hopes that with the involvement of the United States, maybe before Ramadan a turning point may be reached in one of the most severe crisis in the Middle East. Can we have good hopes that with the backing of the United States we can solve this crisis? Thank you.
MARTA DASSU: Thanks, and I have [another question].
QUESTION: Thank you very much for the briefing, my name is Mitchell Belfer of the Euro-Gulf Information Centre. My question is quite quick about Turkey. Because as we talk about renewing our vows, it seems that a crisis is unfolding in which, you know, there’s direct competition inside of Syria, in which bullets are already being fired at the United States and I think many NATO allies – very close friends – amongst the Kurds. And so I was wondering if you could maybe elaborate a little bit on the transitioning relationship – we can call it – between Turkey and the United States on that particular front. Thank you.
DEPUTY SECRETARY SULLIVAN: Sure. First, with respect to Qatar, the dispute between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the Emirates etcetera, has been a keen focus for Secretary Tillerson since last June. We’ve worked very hard to try to bring the parties together, to address the security concerns that have been raised with respect to Qatar. Secretary Tillerson spent a great deal of time in the Gulf addressing this issue last year, negotiating a memorandum of understanding with Qatar on security cooperation, which we believe addressed many of the issues that were raised by outside parties with respect to Qatar. We had a dialogue just recently, as you mentioned, in Washington with a Qatari delegation and we’re hopeful that with further discussions with the rest of the GCC – Kuwait has been really helpful in facilitating those discussions. We’re going to work hard to try to repair that rift in the GCC, because as you know it’s a significant problem for the region when there’s that type of rift in such an important alliance. We’ve worked very hard to try to repair it and we think Qatar has taken significant steps toward doing so. So we will continue that dialogue.
And then Turkey. Turkey is a NATO ally. I’ve reaffirmed the importance of the NATO alliance. Our relationship with Turkey is extremely important. Secretary Tillerson spent a lot of time last week meeting with President Erdogan, talking with his Turkish counterpart, the Foreign Minister, about reconciling our interest. We acknowledged the legitimate security concerns of Turkey in Syria, on its border. We want to address those, while we also continue to pursue our campaign against ISIS, which is in every NATO member country’s interest -- defeating ISIS, making sure that we don’t take our eye off that goal of completing the defeat of ISIS in Syria. Similarly, in Iraq, the so-called Caliphate, the areas that were occupied by ISIS, have been liberated by the Iraqi government -- a significant triumph for the Prime Minister, with the support of the Italian government, the United States government and others in the Coalition to defeat ISIS. But that doesn’t mean that the threat posed by ISIS is gone. Their physical Caliphate may be gone, but the threat that ISIS poses, the security threat to the government in Baghdad, to the government in Erbil is very real and we need to maintain our vigilance in supporting our Iraqi friends in their effort to continue the growth of their democracy, have a successful election – a national election in Baghdad, a regional election in Erbil -- repair the relationship between the KRG and Baghdad. We’re working very hard on that. I was in Baghdad and Erbil a few weeks ago; the Secretary has had discussions recently with Prime Minister Abadi, with Prime Minister Barzani of the KRG to discuss that issue. So that region is extremely important to us, our overriding goal of defeating ISIS, the Defeat-ISIS coalition from which we get such tremendous support from the Italian government – is our number one priority, but we also recognize the security concerns of Turkey and we want to reconcile those and keep Turkey as a loyal NATO ally.
Thank you very much. I have a couple of questions by students, or in any case, young faces.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, sorry. My name is Giovanni Ragusa, I’m a student at John Cabot University. Over the last few months I’ve had the pleasure of working at the Israeli Embassy to the Holy See with Ambassador Oren David and I’m pleased to see Ambassador Sachs is here with us tonight. Now, we know that Italy plays a huge role when it comes to European diplomacy because of our – of the Head – Federica Mogherini’s unfortunate remarks regarding Israel. Now, do you believe that President Trump’s statement of moving the Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem first, and then his decision to withdraw funds for the Organization for Palestinian Aid – do you think that might be a breakthrough, do you think that might be a new phase of this Middle Eastern conflict? I would like to know your predictions, sir. Thank you.
Thank you, very interesting point. Please.
QUESTION: My name is [inaudible], I’m also from John Cabot University. I’d like to firstly thank you for coming to speak to us today. My question is regarding Kosovo. Just a few days ago Kosovo celebrated its tenth year of independence, and I know that when you were working under the Bush Administration their stance on that was particularly clear. I’m wondering, under our new Trump – under President Trump’s Administration, what the stance is going to be towards reaching an agreement between Kosovo and Serbia in terms of peace for both countries.
MARTA DASSU: We’re really making the tour of the world…
DEPUTY SECRETARY SULLIVAN: Secretary Tillerson talks about taking a walk around the world, and this is one of those – he does it much better than I – but this is one of those exercises. With respect to the President’s declaration on December 6th, I think it’s really – it was just an acknowledgement of a fact, that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Without getting more specific, without making any final decisions – we wouldn’t be making them anyway – but any statement about the borders of the capital final status and so forth, it really was a statement of fact, which is how the President characterized it. We’re hopeful that the Palestinian Authority will maintain its focus on the peace process. The President, Senior Advisor Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt have been working hard on a peace plan; the Secretary talked about this recently. We hope that it will be unveiled soon, but I think that the reaction that we’ve seen – it was something that we were prepared for. We were prepared for any contingency at our Embassies in the region and around the world. I think the reaction, or the less dramatic reaction than some might have predicted, is an indication of what ultimately the President’s point was, that we were acknowledging a fact, without getting into details on whether Jerusalem would also be the capital of a Palestinian state – which is something that is entirely possible and consistent with the President’s declaration on December 6th. So there’s a lot more negotiation and work that needs to be done, and we’re hopeful that the Palestinians will be – Palestinian Authority will be a partner in that. There has been discussion and some cutoff of aid, but not all. In fact, millions of dollars in assistance is still going forward. So more to follow, and a very keen focus for the President and his Administration.
Similarly on Kosovo, the United States as you know has been deeply involved with the Kosovars for years, for decades, and we are committed to a peaceful resolution to a peace process, discussions that allow for a secure, stable state of Kosovo that is an important part of the regional dynamic. But there is a lot more work that needs to be done, and we’re very much focused on that in our European Bureau. I should acknowledge that my colleague Ambassador Elisabeth Millard, our [Principal] Deputy Assistant Secretary for the European Bureau is here with me tonight. So more to follow on that as well.
MARTA DASSU: Thank you very much. I have to say that one of the weak points of the European foreign policy is to remain divided over the condition of Kosovo. To be honest, this is not a very shining example of European cohesion. In any case, I have two final questions. Gioia Ghezzi, Chair of Ferrovie dello Stato, followed by this young lady in the middle of the room.
QUESTION: Again, forgive me for a question that is probably slightly outside your remit. I just wanted to get your sense of how investors see – American investors – see Europe and Italy specifically. This is hot on the heels of a big American fund buying the main competitor to the company I chair, with a very big investment of nearly two and a half billions. But it’s against the backdrop of big uncertainty for the country. So I would welcome your views on that. Thank you.
MARTA DASSU: Thank you, Gioia. And then the young lady in the middle.
QUESTION: Hello, good evening. My name is Maria, I’m from the University of Tor Vergata, I’m studying Global Governance and I’d like to thank you for your presence here and for being willing to have a dialogue with us. So my question is about North Korea – actually, a point you touched upon, since North Korean ideology is deeply rooted in the Songun ideology, where they put military investment and military development above all other things – including their social, their people and everything, and how it’s very important for them their national security. I feel that looking at it also from a psychological point of view, the more a country is isolated, the more a country is embargoed or sanctioned upon, the more it feels that it needs to strengthen its military. It has the counter-effect – result, actually – because I don’t think personally that this is the right approach in solving their situation, I think they’ll continue to pursue their nuclear development. So I was thinking maybe another peaceful approach would be considered, in a way, by opening in terms of trade, by reestablishing relationships also, since now China and also South Korea are the only allies they have on this. Maybe this would at least help them in shifting their attention away from military and putting more investment in economy and social. Thank you.
MARTA DASSU: This is a very old debate, isolation versus engagement – I’m sure the Deputy Secretary will be able to give a rational response to that. Please.
DEPUTY SECRETARY SULLIVAN: Sure. The first question on investment, foreign direct investment in Italy, I would first have to say that our Ambassador to Italy, Ambassador Eisenberg – given his background at Goldman Sachs and private equity – would have a much more informed view than I, but my assessment is that Italy is a very attractive investment for U.S. companies. And it’s certainly something that a free and open trading system and foreign direct investment – investment by the United States in Italy, Italian investment in the United States – both ways is extremely important. It was my experience in the Bush 43 Administration, at the Department of Commerce, that we in particular wanted to encourage foreign direct investment in the United States and facilitate that investment by U.S. investors in other countries, particularly allies and NATO allies like Italy. So I’m going to have to defer to the Ambassador on more particulars about the investment climate, but it’s certainly something that I would expect U.S. companies to look very closely at.
With respect to DPRK, the problem is that over decades the United States, other countries have tried a number of discussions with the North Koreans, imposing sanctions then removing them and what we have seen is over time a relentless march by the regime to develop both a nuclear weapon and the capacity to deliver it, an intercontinental ballistic missile. So the world community has really united [in] unprecedented UN Security Council resolutions sanctioning North Korea for really upending the international system by developing, flaunting UN Security Council resolutions and undermining our global commitment to nonproliferation of nuclear weapons. I would agree with you that sanctions alone are not going to do the trick, we have a maximum pressure campaign to isolate and impose sanctions on North Korea, but ultimately – and Vice President Pence and Secretary Tillerson have discussed this – ultimately we need to have talk with the North Koreans. That’s our ultimate goal.
When we have the right circumstances, and that may be soon, when we have those circumstances we will engage in talks with North Korea and do our best to convince the North Koreans that it’s in their interest to take a different direction than they have taken in the past. To the extent that they want to hear the United States or allies reassure them about their motives – Secretary Tillerson has already said this – we’re not interested. We are committed…we are not seeking regime change, we’re not looking to reunify the Korean peninsula, that’s for the Koreans to decide. We’re not looking to move our military north of the 38th parallel, we’ve already committed to that. What we won’t do is continue the past practice of engaging with the North Koreans, seeking to have good faith negotiations, providing some relief for sanctions and then have the North Koreans continue to flout international norms and Security Council resolutions and continue the relentless progression of developing a thermonuclear weapon that can be delivered by an intercontinental ballistic missile.
So we’re committed not just to sanctions, but ultimately to talks with North Korea, a diplomatic campaign – we’re not looking for a military solution to this problem, but we’re not going to start negotiations now and make concessions until we see some movement by the North Koreans that suggest that they are willing to discuss denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, which [in] my discussions just in the last few days with counterparts in China, it’s also what China wants. It’s not just the United States, it’s South Korea, it’s China, it’s the world community, the UN Security Council. All these resolutions aim at addressing this proliferation problem. If you’re serious about ending nuclear proliferation, you need to be serious about keeping pressure on North Korea, ultimately engaging in talks to negotiate the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and that’s our goal.
Thank you very much, very interesting. One final question from Fabio Squillante, again the journalist sector.
QUESTION: Good evening, Fabio Squillante from Agenzia NOVA news agency. You started your initial address with Libya. In fact, Libya is very important to Italy, as you know – as you told. My question is this, recently we have had a couple of terroristic attacks in Benghazi, after which several prisoners were shot in the head in the public square. The executor was one of the most important commanders of Haftar’s army. He was put in house arrest after that, and after the second attack he was freed by the crowd. And now I think he is [free]. So he is [wanted] by the criminal court of The Hague. If it is possible, the second question on foreign direct investment in Italy form China. Italy sold significant parts of its electrical grid and its gas grid to Chinese state companies. How do you look at that? Thank you.
MARTA DASSU: Deputy Secretary, to say that Italy sold a significant part of […] – it’s a bit too much, in my view. Some grids. It’s an over-evaluation of the problem, we have – I mean, China clearly is trying to enter with strategic investments in Europe, all over Europe. We have assessment of all that. It is interesting by the way that France with Mr. Macron is trying to put up a European position in judging these strategic investments by outside and so it’s very important to understand how do you conceive that. But I mean, again, we are not selling out Italy to China.
DEPUTY SECRETARY SULLIVAN: Well, I’ll address the first question you asked about the military forces in Eastern Libya. The United States will only cooperate with governments and entities that comply with the law of armed conflict and international norms and protect human rights. The United States will not provide support or any encouragement to any groups or individuals that violate those important norms. So I’m aware of the situation that you described and those are the standards that we will apply in deciding how we move forward. As I said at the outset, our view is that the situation of Libya – the problems that are manifest there – ultimately will be solved by a political solution, not a military solution, and certainly not by any solution that involves more crimes or executing prisoners.
With respect to – I’m not going to be able to directly comment on – let me make a general observation about China. The United States is not seeking to prevent the rise of China, the development of China, the growth of China. What we want to see is Chinese growth and development that is consistent with the rules that all the other countries play by in our international trading and investment regime. That’s what the President is getting at when he talks about potential tariff, the 232 tariff, because of Chinese overcapacity in steel for example. That’s the problem we’re looking to solve, we want to do it in a way that doesn’t harm other countries that are playing by the rules and behaving consistently with the WTO and other obligations. But at the end of the day, the United States does not oppose the rise of China. China is becoming a great power, an economic power. The size of its economy, its population, its technological development and so forth – there are aspects of that rise that concern us, the militarization of islands in the South China Sea – but as a general proposition, the United States does not oppose the rise and development and growth of China.
MARTA DASSU: Thank you very much. I’m very sorry I can’t give the floor to each of you, because we are running against time. If I may, as a final remark, a final comment on you presentation which I found extremely interesting and congratulations for your control and command of all these different issues. Can we say in the end that the words about the compatibility between the European Defense and NATO are over-described, in a sense. You told us that you are perfectly well with the fusion of the European Union including in defense, you think that allies are there to remain vis-à-vis current risks and challenges. Because we read in recent times that there was some worries about the relationship between European defense and NATO but my impression listening to you is that this kind of problems are oversold, in a sense, because the reality is that we are going along quite well.
DEPUTY SECRETARY SULLIVAN: I would acknowledge that there are problems, there are issues that need to be addressed, but we’ve overcome more difficult issues in the past. And to confront the security challenges that we face today, the complex security challenge that we face in Syria, in Lebanon, in Ukraine, we need to be united and we need to overcome those internal issues whether it’s on defense acquisition, NATO versus EU and so forth, we need to work hard to overcome those problems. I’m confident we can, we don’t want to minimize their significance, my colleagues at the Defense Department won’t let me do that, but as a diplomat I want to say that we are committed to overcoming those issues. Thank you.
MARTA DASSU: Thank you very much indeed.
MARTA DASSU: Thank you again and safe trip to Brussels, Ukraine.
DEPUTY SECRETARY SULLIVAN: Thank you very much.