Background Briefing on Secretary of State Kerry's Trip to Great Britain, Germany, and France
Background Briefing on Secretary of State Kerry's Trip to Great Britain, Germany, and France
24 February 2013
Senior State Department Official
En route London, United Kingdom
MODERATOR: All right, everybody. We are en route from Washington to London, Secretary of State Kerry’s first overseas trip. We have with us today Senior State Department Official, for your records [Senior State Department Official], to talk about our first three stops: London, Berlin, and Paris.
Take it away, Senior Official.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thanks. So I’ll maybe just walk you through the schedule first on these first three stops. Then we can turn to substance. But obviously, arriving in London tonight. Tomorrow, the Secretary will have a chance to see the Prime Minister for a working breakfast. Then he’ll do a couple of different sessions with Foreign Secretary Hague, including a working lunch. And he’ll also do a meeting with MI-6 head John Sawers before doing a meet and greet with the Embassy, a chance to thank Embassy staff.
In Berlin, he’s actually going to start with a youth event, giving him a chance to engage with next generation German leaders, underscoring the importance of continuing to stress the common values and interests we share with Germans and Europeans with that next generation, before then going on to a working lunch with Foreign Minister Westerwelle and a meeting with the Chancellor, Angela Merkel.
That afternoon, he’ll also meet with Foreign Minister Lavrov of Russia. You know they’ve had a couple of substantive long phone calls already, and they’ve agreed to try to meet as soon as possible and were able to arrange it to do that meeting in Berlin.
Then it’s on to Paris, where he’ll see President Hollande, and he’ll do a working lunch with Foreign Minister Fabius. And again, in all of the stops, he’ll do meet and greets with the embassy thanking them for all of their good work.
The Secretary is very pleased to be able to do this first foreign trip with these key European partners, and I think that’s a real reflection of the degree to which we coordinate our global cooperation with these (inaudible) partners. They’ve been stalwart, as you all know. And we’ve discussed many times the big global issues of the day in the Middle East, doing Libya together as NATO; on Iran, where we’re really very much aligned; Egypt; essentially throughout the world.
And we’ve said before we’re probably more strategically aligned than ever, and this is an opportunity for the Secretary to build on that and to engage and listen. And he has said that one of the things he wants to do in these first two stops is hear what these key partners have to say. Nobody has any illusions about how big the challenges we face, that he faces as the new Secretary, are. And so early on it’s a chance to hear from key partners and see how we can coordinate even further on those challenges. So I won’t go through a list, because with each of them there’s a very long subject we’ll address. I’m sure you’ll have questions about that, and I’m happy to take them.
MODERATOR: Okay. Let’s start with Andrea.
QUESTION: The Secretary said at one point that he has new ideas for Syria. Can you tell us how that progresses, and what to do about contacts Syria and the Russians?
QUESTION: Can you repeat the question?
MODERATOR: The question was about Syria, whether there are new ideas, and how to deal with the Russians?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I mean, I’ll leave it to the Secretary to talk about his ideas on Syria and just simply say again, on all these burning and pressing issues, this one is at or very near the top of the list, and I’m sure he’ll discuss it with each of the leaders. And as you know, he also took the initiative to try to get together with a group of leaders, not just the Europeans but from the regions – from the region a little bit later on the trip. But I’ll leave it to him to talk about the approach that he wants to take on Syria.
The Russia piece we’ve been focused on for some time, because we’ve been absolutely clear that there needs to be a political transition, and we felt that Russia could play a key role in convincing the regime and everyone that there needs to be that political transition. That’s what we met about, and a lot of you were there in Geneva last year. We’re following up on that, and I’m sure at the top of his agenda with Minister Lavrov we’ll be urging Russia to support what we all believe to be true, which is that we need to move on from the regime and have a political transition in Syria.
QUESTION: What’s your understanding of what Lavrov – Lavrov and the Arab League in this past week said that they were ready to help push along these negotiations. What kind of signals are you getting from Lavrov that he’s really ready to do something?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I – sorry, the question. Go ahead.
MODERATOR: The question was based on Lavrov’s comments after he saw Elaraby, what signals are you getting from the Russians, a question that I addressed earlier in the (inaudible).
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The question was brilliantly addressed earlier in the Briefing Room, and I have little to add to it. Any steps towards negotiation that lead to the political transition that we have said is essential are welcome. And if the Arab League can help with that, and the leaders of the SOC are willing to move forward, and if the Russians are willing to press the regime, then obviously we welcome that. I don’t want to overstate it, and I don’t – we have not seen major breakthroughs with the Russian or a change of the Russian position. So we’re not expecting this meeting to be a big breakthrough either, but we’re going to keep working it and keep underscoring all of the reasons we believe it’s necessary to have that political transition.
MODERATOR: I think we also look forward to hearing what Lavrov has to say, given that Elaraby has now been in Moscow and he’s had more contacts.
QUESTION: I have a more general question on Russia. I mean, you’ve seen the trajectory of this relationship, the ups and downs. I mean, as Kerry starts out, Lavrov’s a pro, he’s been there forever and ever. What is going to be different, if anything, in your view, on the U.S. relationship with Russia, U.S. approach to Russia? And specifically, is he going to raise the whole adoption and Magnitsky law in his meeting with Lavrov this week?
MODERATOR: The question was about Russia, whether the Kerry-Lavrov relationship is going to be different, what issues are going to be raised, and whether adoption, among other things, and Magnitsky will be raised.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. No, and it’s a good question, because you’re right that a new Secretary has a chance to engage on this issue that has been critically important to this Administration. We don’t deny that it has been a difficult patch in U.S.-Russia relations, and you know the list of differences that we have had as well as I do. It doesn’t fundamentally change anything about our approach, because our approach has always been very realistic and based on the view that the President outlined right from the start that we have a lot of common interests with Russia. And we will constantly be looking for practical areas where we can cooperate, and we found a lot of them in the arms control area and on Afghanistan and on DPRK and on Iran and in our economic relationship, with the WTO accession. And that doesn’t change, and it won’t change with the Secretary, who’s equally committed to improving that relationship with Russia.
But we also said from the start that when we disagreed with Russia, and we do, we’d be very clear about it, and we have. We’ve been clear about our disappointments with some domestic developments in Russia, including on NGO laws and their ending the relationship and the role of USAID in Moscow. We have differences on missile defense. We’ve been very clear about our differences on Georgia. And clearly, you have differences on Syria, which the Secretary will frankly and directly address with Minister Lavrov. So there’s nothing different about that. I think the Vice President addressed that in Munich last month.
But what is new is, with a new Secretary, I think he’ll have a chance to say to Minister Lavrov let’s get beyond who’s to blame for the difficult patch that we’ve been in. There’s no use in this sort of tit-for-tat and who’s responsible for this. We have common interests. Let’s focus on them. We’re going to be clear about the differences that we have, and we’re going to stick to our interests and values, but we’ve got a lot of important things to do together, starting with Syria, and let’s get on with it.
QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official], James Rosen with FOX News. When the Secretary is in Paris, I assume he’ll be discussing the operations in Mali. What is the U.S. Government’s understanding of the state of affairs right now in Mali vis-a-vis the balance of power between the French and African forces versus Islamists there and terrorists there?
And what specifically is Secretary Kerry coming to Paris to offer by way of expanded or ongoing U.S. assistance?
MODERATOR: The question was on Mali, for the Paris stop, our assessment of the ground situation and what the U.S. is prepared to do going forward. I’m happy to help if you want.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. And I’ll just start by saying you can be sure Mali will be very near the top of the agenda with the French. It’s something that they have raised with us well before the recent operation, given their great concerns about North Africa and the role of AQIM and the Maghreb in general, the Sahel in general. And we have always been very supportive, and we said we would be earlier. And since their operation, we have supported it not just politically but materially, as you know, helping with airlift and with in-air refueling, because we have a common struggle here. And we want them to succeed because it is our – it is in our common interest to do so.
We have – the European Union has – we are helping, and [Moderator] will elaborate on this, but – to support the African-led mission that should follow the French. And the French have been clear that they want to continue to reduce their troops and turn this over to an African-led force.
The EU is moving forward with training for the Malian army, and this is just another example of how we work together. Sometimes we’re in the lead, sometimes Europeans are in the lead, but because we have common interests, we have an interest in doing it together.
QUESTION: What’s the state on the ground? What’s the state of affairs? Who has the balance of power? Where do the terrorists stand?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, we think the French have been very successful in meeting the initial goals of their mission, which is driving the extremists out – first stopping them from marching on the capital, but then driving them back and some cases out of the country, and restoring Malian authority. But we have no illusions how difficult this is. Nobody is declaring victory and saying this one is over. It’s going to be a long struggle. The British have been very clear about that, too. This is a long-term challenge that we have to deal with. The initial stages have been successful, and we’re going to maintain our support for our French, European, and African partners.
QUESTION: And what’s the U.S. offering?
MODERATOR: Just to remind how the burden sharing has worked on this, with the French doing the first really critical piece, working with the Malian military, who we can’t work with because of the coup, in driving the terrorists out of the cities and pushing them back now and chasing them off, our piece of this has been to train up and get ready and support the AFISMA forces, who are starting to flow in now, so – and starting to begin to help hold in the cities as well, and who the French hope can increasingly begin to backfill them so that they are just able to do the high-end piece and work with the Mali military. We’ve put $96 million so far into that train-and-equip piece for the AFISMA forces. And then the third piece is the European Union training the Malians so that they can continue to be good partners for the French and good partners for AFISMA.
So it’s a very good moment for us to be sitting down with the French, looking at how they see the ground situation, how they see the Mali military coming forward, how we see the AFISMA training mission, and how AFISMA’s performing already on the ground in Mali.
Let’s go to Nicole.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Can I --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There was a piece of Anne’s question that I didn’t get to but wanted to, because you also asked specifically whether adoptions would come up. And I’m sure the answer is yes, because the Russians have bringing – have been bringing it up. When I said we’ve been clear when we’re disappointed or disagree with Russian actions, we’ve been clear that we were disappointed when they put a ban on adoptions to the United States and abrogated the adoptions agreement that we had reached.
They have raised some tragic cases of adoptees being injured or killed, and we’ve been clear that any time a child, whether adopted, Russian, or American – and by the way, these are American children and citizens as well – that affects us as much as anyone. And we are as determined as anyone to protect every child. What we are disappointed with is the idea that, because of these cases, there shouldn’t be any adoptions by Americans. And there are a lot of orphans in Russia who could be welcomed into loving American families that, unfortunately, now can’t be because of the ban. So we’ll have a chance to bring that up from our side as well.
QUESTION: Can you tell us a little bit about why the Secretary is meeting with the MI-6 head, and about what in particular? And also, I’m just wondering if the Secretary will be working on the European trade pact that the President announced in the State of the Union, and if so, what that will entail?
MODERATOR: The question was, why the meeting with MI-6? And is the TTIP going to come up?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: On the first, I mean, as everybody knows, we have a very close intelligence relationship with the British. It’ll be an opportunity to discuss that relationship. But more importantly, he’s well informed about all of the issues that we’ve been discussing here. And the Secretary wants to be as well briefed and as informed as possible. And again, this is partly a listening tour and hearing from our partners. So it’s an opportunity to learn and be as well briefed as possible.
MODERATOR: I think we could also just add to that that in the second term of the Administration, just to underscore, that even as we change up the team at home, that intelligence relationship is just absolutely essential.
MODERATOR: This is a different situation. We’re talking about a sitting Secretary of State.
Did you want to talk about TTIP?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. I’m sure that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership will come up. The President referred to it in his State of the Union remarks, that we are now launching negotiations on this comprehensive economic agreement. The European Union is already our most important trade and investment partner. But in this economic climate, we believe that completing negotiations on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership could create millions of jobs and strengthen that relationship even further, and be a model for other parts of the world. The British have been very supportive of this. Other Europeans are very enthusiastic as well.
And again, in this economic environment, the chance to advance this, we have no illusions about the difficulties and the obstacles. As I think Mike Froman has said, if this were easy we would have negotiated decades ago. The U.S.-EU economic partnership is already, of course, substantially free. There aren’t a lot of tariff barriers, but there are issues in non-tariff barriers and regulations where we really want to make important progress, and the Secretary will want to talk to his counterparts about that.
QUESTION: On Iran, the European partners are obviously key in negotiations. You have this parallel conversation in Almaty this week. Can you give us a sense of what’s different going into those negotiations and the support from Europe?
MODERATOR: So, question was on Iran. We’ve got the Almaty discussions going on in parallel. What’s new, what’s different?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I won’t prejudge Almaty. I’ll simply say we are extremely well knitted up with our P-3+3, or P-5+1, counterparts. We have a common position. We have in recent weeks and months substantially strengthened the sanctions that are designed to bolster our diplomacy. We think those sanctions are having a real effect in Iran, and that’s one thing that’s different. In fact, each time these meetings take place, the Iranian economy is in a more difficult state, because the world is coming together in making clear that until Iran complies with its obligations to the international community and abides by UN Security Council resolutions, there will be a price.
We are – so we are determined on the sanctions side, just as we’re determined and committed to the diplomacy side. And here is the next round of diplomacy, once again putting something on the table that gives Iran the opportunity to comply with those international obligations and reassure the international community, and that’s what we’re expecting to see.
QUESTION: You referred to the IAEA report (inaudible). How does that impact all these conversations?
MODERATOR: Question about the impact of the IAEA report.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It simply understands the reasons why we continue to have these concerns.
QUESTION: Though the EU recently determined to extend the arms embargo in Syria for another (inaudible) three months. There were differences among the Europeans on that. The Brits had wanted that to lapse. What is your – what is the U.S. perspective on that? And do you think this is the way to change Assad’s calculations and put pressure on Syria?
MODERATOR: Question was about the EU decision to extend the arms embargo for another three months. What impact?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, on the – obviously a EU decision is for them. What they decided to do was extend it, but they also clarified that they could go ahead with non-lethal assistance even to the armed groups, like body armor and armored vehicles and night vision goggles. I think we’ve been clear about our position this range of issues, and I’ll leave it for Secretary in further Syria discussions to comment further about that.
QUESTION: Is the Administration giving any consideration to changing its position on the arms embargo? And does the Secretary plan to say anything about Britain’s place in the European Union, given the fuss kicked up by the comments made by Assistant Secretary Gordon and then the President when he reiterated those with Prime Minister Cameron?
MODERATOR: So, the question was two-fold, first of all whether there’s any change afoot to the U.S. arms – U.S. non-lethal posture in Syria, and whether the UK’s place in the European Union is likely to come up, given --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t have anything further to add on our approach to arms in Syria.
On the UK and the EU, I suspect it will come up, because it’s a very big issue in the United Kingdom. You’ll all have seen Prime Minister Cameron’s speech in which he articulated the British approach, including a referendum in the second half of the next Parliament if he’s elected. As for the U.S. position, I think we’ve been clear about it. You – the President himself addressed it in saying that we support a strong UK voice in a strong European Union. And if asked, the Secretary will repeat that position. It’s our interest, and we’ve made that clear.
QUESTION: It’s on the U.S.-European relationship. The fact that the Secretary starts his first trip by Europe, is it a clear sign that the U.S. Administration is willing to strengthen the transatlantic relationship?
MODERATOR: So, question was significance of Europe being the first stop for Secretary Kerry.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: As I said, starting with Europe underscores the degree to which we have common interests and values with our key European partners, the degree to which we work so closely together in meeting the enormous challenges that we both face around the world. And it is a testament to the importance of that relationship and the desire to strengthen it further.
QUESTION: Will they be discussing the referendum in the Falklands, and is there plans to make his position on the –
MODERATOR: Question whether they’re going to talk about the Falklands.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t know if they’ll talk about the Falklands. If we’re asked about the Falklands, we would underscore we’ve said before, which is that we recognize the de facto British administration of the islands and we don’t take a position on sovereignty.
QUESTION: Can you talk at all about just overarching themes in your mind that knit together this first part of the trip, if there’s anything that connects all of the stops?
And then just quickly on Berlin, in the town hall, Kerry obviously spent some time there as a child. I don’t know if there’s any particular significance to that bit.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well – do you want to repeat that?
MODERATOR: So, the first question was overarching themes for the first three stops, and then the town hall Berlin connections to Secretary Kerry, who spent some time there as a child.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. The latter, I think is for him to answer, and maybe he’ll get a chance to do that.
The theme, I think the overarching theme is the one I’ve stressed already, that these are our closest partners with which – with whom we work on global challenges, and there are certainly plenty of global challenges. And to start his fist foreign travel by engaging with these counterparts and listening to what they have to say is a statement in and of itself.
MODERATOR: With regard to Berlin, yes, he was eager to engage with younger people. He obviously picked Berlin because it has special significance for him, having spent some very impactful time there as a child. But more broadly, I think, we are all concerned, all of us transatlanticists of a certain generation, that those who remember the times that we had to come to each other’s aid in a really existential way are getting older, and that it’s important to reinforce with younger generations how very, very important our alliance is not only to our shared security but to our economic health and well-being and to the values that we share, and those values being spread and growing around the world.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on the Falklands?
MODERATOR: Last one, Matt.
QUESTION: The question was about whether the U.S. is going to stand behind or support the results of the referendum. Your answer to the question seemed to suggest that not really, it doesn’t – I mean, it doesn’t matter. So I just want to make sure that I just – because the Brits are looking for a change in that they want you to say we will take the results of the referendum and that’s the way it should be. You’re not – the U.S. is not prepared to do that? As you’ll remember, the Secretary’s predecessor got into a bit of trouble in Argentina when she talked about how they thought that (inaudible) --
MODERATOR: Okay. (Inaudible) the question. So the question was --
QUESTION: Well --
MODERATOR: -- about the Falklands and whether we’re going to be bound by the referendum results.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Like I said, we have a stated position on the Falklands. It’s consistent. It remains our position. I won’t speculate about a referendum that hasn’t taken place yet.
MODERATOR: All right. I think he’s answered the question to the best of --
QUESTION: Well, but I just want to make sure – the Brits are not going to be happy with that. I want to make sure you’re saying there’s no – there won’t be any change in the U.S. position, that it still needs to be negotiated between the Brits and the Argentines.
MODERATOR: I think he just said that he’s not going to speculate on the results of a referendum and what it may or may not do in terms of our position until after (inaudible).
QUESTION: Okay, but what I read this morning says the U.S. is not going to --
MODERATOR: What he said was we’re not going to speculate on the – on a referendum or where we may or may not go. Is that fair to say?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. I’ll leave it at that.
MODERATOR: All right. Good.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you, everybody.