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Barack Obama: Briefing by National Security Advisor Tony Blinken on the Vice President's Upcoming Trip to Central Europe
Barack
Barack Obama
Briefing by National Security Advisor Tony Blinken on the Vice President's Upcoming Trip to Central Europe
October 19, 2009
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Via conference call

11:05 A.M. EDT

MR. BLINKEN: Good morning, everyone. Thanks very much for joining the call. Let me walk you through the trip. I'll start with the schedule, at least the highlights of the schedule, and then talk about some of the key themes and objectives for the trip.

As Jay said, we start tomorrow, Tuesday. We depart Washington in the morning and arrive at Warsaw late Tuesday night. On Wednesday, we start the day in Warsaw. The Vice President will start by meeting and greeting our embassy staff in Warsaw. He then meets with Prime Minister Tusk, who will be hosting a working lunch for him as well. And you can expect statements by the Vice President and the Prime Minister immediately following the lunch.

Next, the Vice President sits down with a broad cross section of civil society leaders to talk about common efforts to promote democracy. He then moves on to the presidential palace for a meeting with President Kaczynski. And again, each will make a brief statement at the top of the meeting.

And then it's off to the airport, where the Vice President will greet Polish veterans who served in Afghanistan. And from Warsaw, we go on to Bucharest, Romania. We arrive there Wednesday night in the mid-evening around 8:00 p.m.

Thursday, we are in Bucharest, and the Vice President starts the day again by meeting with our embassy staff there. That will be followed by a working session with the President, Basescu -- again, statements from the Vice President and the President, immediately following their meeting.

Next on the agenda is a meeting with the Prime Minister, Boc. And then, we move on to Central University, where the Vice President will deliver a speech that's going to be focused on U.S. relations with the countries of central Europe. After the speech, he'll meet briefly with some of the political directors from across central Europe. These are the senior diplomats from each country in the region. And then he concludes the afternoon by meeting with two leading opposition leaders, the leader of the PSD and the former Foreign Minister, Geoana, and the leader of the PNL, Antonescu. And from there it is wheels up for Prague and the Czech Republic.

And that brings us to Friday. Friday, we're in Prague for the day. The Vice President starts with a meeting with the Prime Minister, Fischer. There's a brief lunch, and then the two leaders will each make a statement to the press. The Vice President then meets with President Klaus. After that, he is back to the ambassador's residence. He will sit down with some of the key opposition leaders in the Czech Republic. He'll meet with our embassy staff there. And then in the early evening it's back to Washington, and we arrive home around 10:00 p.m. on Friday.

So that's a snapshot of the schedule that captures the major events and meetings. But there will also be other things to fill out the picture as we go along.

Let me talk briefly about the key objectives and themes of the trip, and then take questions. First, and most obviously, the trip comes at a historic marker, the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. So the Vice President is going to mark the moment. But his focus is going to be much more on the future than on the past. In his view, the real validation of 1989 is less in what we took down and more in what we built, and continue to build together -- strong democracies, strong partnerships that deliver for people in all of our countries and beyond.

Second, I think you'll see a lot of focus and reaffirmation on the substance of those partnerships with the countries of central Europe. Let me just touch quickly on a few of them. We have the very strong security partnership. All three countries the Vice President will visit are members of NATO. As NATO members, we're committed to each other's defense. All three make important contributions -- with soldiers and civilians -- to the allied effort in Afghanistan, just as they have in Iraq and in the Balkans. With all three, we benefit from strong defense cooperation, including joint training and exercises. And with all three, the Vice President will discuss the new missile defense architecture we're proposing for Europe. That architecture, as you know, is designed to meet a current threat with proven technology. It's adaptable to future threats. It will be deployed sooner than the previous program, and cover all the countries in NATO.

We also have a partnership for energy security and combating climate change. The countries in central Europe have a particularly critical role to play in diversifying energy sources and suppliers, promoting efficiency, strengthening the European grids. And, of course, we have a strong partnership for trade and investment, and these partnerships are all the more important as we emerge from the global economic downturn.

Third, and finally, the United States and the countries of central Europe are really transitioning from a local agenda to a global one, and the Vice President will talk about that during the trip. The United States is thinking about the region less in terms of what we can do for central Europe, and more in terms of what we can do with central Europe. The countries are no longer "post-Communist," or "in transition." They are full-fledged members of the NATO alliance and the European Union with serious and substantial responsibilities.

The partnerships I already mentioned go well beyond local interests, and right to our common global responsibilities -- from Afghanistan to Iran, from energy security to global economic growth. And we're also looking at our partners in central Europe for leadership, in an area they're uniquely qualified to provide, advancing democracy.

The example that they set 20 years ago inspired the world. The leadership they exert over the next 20 years can change the world, encouraging, supporting, and defending young democracies. So let me stop with that and take any questions. Thank you.

Q: Can you give us just a little bit more of a flavor for how big a role the missile defense issue will play in these talks? And is there any significance in the Vice President's trip timing, coming right now shortly after Secretary of State Clinton went to Russia?

MR. BLINKEN: In terms of missile defense, I think it's going to be an important item on the agenda in all of the meetings that we have in all three countries. But the agenda is much bigger than missile defense. And I touched on a number of the issues, whether it's what we're doing together in Afghanistan; whether it's the work we're doing together actually to reform NATO, going forward with a new strategic concept; energy security, climate change, the economies in all these countries. There is a very full and broad agenda -- the advancement of democracy. And so missile defense will be part of it, but the trip is not focused on missile defense per se.

That said, it's clearly an issue that is on the minds of people, and I think this is an opportunity for the Vice President to continue discussions with our key allies on missile defense, and in particular about the new architecture that we put -- that we put forward, and to emphasize the fact that this architecture will address the current threats that we and the Europeans are facing, with technology that we know works and can be deployed faster than the previous system we've been talking about and cover all of NATO.

So I think what you're -- what you're hearing and what the Vice President will talk about, is a strong commitment to missile defense and to a better system, a more effective system than the one we had originally proposed.

Q: And the Russia connection?

MR. BLINKEN: The Russia connection is simply that we're working -- and indeed, a number of countries in central Europe are working -- to reset the -- the relationship with Russia. And we've made I think significant progress. The Secretary of State, as you mentioned, was just there. On a broad variety of issues, we're working very closely with Russia. We're obviously moving forward on a start successor treaty. We've been working very closely with the Russians on securing nuclear materials. We're in close collaboration on Iran. And this is very positive, not only for us and for Russia, but also I think for countries in the region, because the stronger the relationship we have, the more you're likely to see stability throughout -- throughout Europe.

At the same time, you'll recall the Vice President, in February, when he went to Munich to make the first major foreign policy speech of the administration at President Obama's request, made it very clear that as we reset the relationship with Russia, that will not come at the expense of our partners and alliances.

And so we've reaffirmed -- and the Vice President has done it, the President has done it -- that we continue to reject the notion of a sphere of influence. We continue to stand by the right of sovereign democracies to choose their own alliances. And that remains the case.

Q: Thank you.

MR. BLINKEN: Thank you.

Q: My question is concerning the Czech Republic. Will Mr. Vice President, or President, present any concrete offers or suggestions to the Czech Republic concerning the participation in the new anti-missile system? This is one question. The next, as you mentioned, the energy security question, will the Vice President discuss the Nord Stream pipeline in Prague? What can we expect in this energy security respect? And the last question is if you can specify the names of these positions, leaders the Vice President will meet in Prague? And what do you mean by opposition, since there is no regular political government in the Czech Republic? Thank you.

MR. BLINKEN: Thanks very much for your multiple questions. First, on missile defense, let me say first we very much appreciate the Czech Republic's partnership in addressing the threat of ballistic missiles. And as part of the consultations that we're undertaking now through NATO, and bilaterally, the government has expressed -- the Czech government has expressed a strong interest in continuing to play a leadership role as we work with our NATO allies on this issue. And that's something that we welcome. So the Vice President is going to be I'm sure discussing that with our hosts as we talk about our broad strategic cooperation, including in the area of missile defense.

In terms of energy, yes, I'm sure that will come up. I know that the Vice President wants to talk about European efforts to diversify supply routes, to diversify sources of energy, to strengthen the European grid for energy and electricity. So I expect this to feature very much in his discussions in the Czech Republic, and in all three countries.

And let me get back to you -- I will -- on the list of people that we're meeting with. We're still working out the final meetings, but we can get back to you on that.

Q: But just to follow-up, will there be any concrete offers to the participation in the new missile defense?

MR. BLINKEN: I'm going to let the Vice President's trip speak for itself. But what we're doing now is we're engaged in consultations, both bilaterally with countries, but also, and very importantly, through NATO. And these discussions have to play out. People need to get all the information necessary to decide on what role they might play in going forward in missile defense.

Q: Thank you.

MR. BLINKEN: Thank you.

Q: Can you talk a little bit more about the way the roll out of the missile defense decision has played out in Poland and the Czech Republic? I mean, you've made the case that this is a better system for all the reasons you talked about, but there has obviously been a lot of angst in that region. Should this have been handled differently? And how do you feel that the Vice President's trip will -- that dynamic?

MR. BLINKEN: I think allies heard and discussed what we're proposing -- the stronger the support. I think it was unfortunate that some of the initial headlines, when the decision was announced, talked about the United States "abandoning" missile defense in Europe. And, of course, it's exactly the opposite. The approach we're taking strengthens missile defense in Europe.

As I said -- and more importantly, as the President, Vice President, and others have said -- we did a number of things. First of all, we had this -- a new threat assessment. And the assessment was that the threat from short and intermediate-range missiles was growing from Iran, and the threats from inter-continental ballistic missiles was further in the future than we thought. And the person who led the review that led to the initial program, the so-called program of record, was Secretary Bob Gates, just before he was Secretary of Defense in the previous administration. And the person who led this new review that led to the new approach that we're proposing -- Secretary Bob Gates.

And so the threat, the nature of the threat had changed. Our technology, in the intervening years, has changed. And we have systems that are proven against short-range missiles and intermediate-range missiles. And so taking those two things into account, we came up with this new phased adaptive approach. And we're convinced that the approach is stronger across the board.

As I suggested earlier, it meets a threat that exists, as opposed to one that is far off in the future. It's adaptive to future threats. It is based on technology that's already out there and working. And it will cover more of Europe faster than the previous program.

So the more allies have been focused on the details and the specifics, the stronger the support has been. We just had a high-level defense group go to Poland this past week. There will be one going out to the Czech Republic in a few weeks. And, of course, the Vice President's trip is out there.

Could we have handled it better, differently? You can always handle things better. And as I said, I think what really created an initial problem were headlines that fundamentally misunderstood, or misrepresented, what we were doing. But I'm confident that based on the discussions we've already had, based on the discussions that have been initiated in NATO, and based on what I'm sure we'll talk about this week, that we're getting very strong support across the board for this approach.

Q: And on the -- Poland, specifically, they were given, or told they were given the right of first refusal for these SM-3 missiles that are land-based. Have they responded in that regard? Will that come up in the conversation tomorrow, or I guess, Wednesday?

MR. BLINKEN: We have made it very clear to Poland that we value their involvement in the phased adaptive approach. And, indeed, we offered them a right of first refusal to host the SM-3s. We've had a number of discussions already on this issue with Polish officials, most recently that high-level defense group I just mentioned, which was in Poland from the 15th -- the 15th and 16th of October.

And what we're doing now is we're trying to provide Poland with all of the information from our consultations -- bilaterally, and in NATO -- certainly to support a NATO framework for missile defense in Europe, and more specifically, a role in our phased adaptive approach. So what we need to do though is work with Poland to find a role that they find suitable, and then we can discuss how we move forward on it. And I'm sure this will come up in the Vice President's discussions this week. We'll see what -- where they are, especially after the high-level defense group that met with them last week.

Q: I appreciate it.

MR. BLINKEN: Thank you.

Q: Could you describe for just a second where Vice President Biden fits into the foreign policy team, where he thinks he has value added? A lot of us who have written about his, kind of a unique weight given on the special envoys in the foreign policy team, and in what Clinton's role is. But talk to us for just a second about what Vice President Biden sees his role and where he gives the best bang for the buck?

MR. BLINKEN: I really think that's a question best addressed to others on the team, and including to the Vice President. I think it's fair to say that you've seen the Vice President, virtually from day one -- actually, before day one -- play a central role on the foreign policy team. You'll recall that he went to -- at the President-elect's request, went to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq in January before the inaugural. As I mentioned earlier, he gave the -- again, at the President's request -- the first major foreign policy speech of this administration, February at the Munich conference.

And since then, at the President's request, he's been virtually all over the world as a core member of the team, to the Balkans, to Europe, repeatedly to Iraq, where the President has asked him to oversee the Iraq policy, to South and Central America, and now to Central Europe. And here at home, he is a core member of the team that meets multiple times a week, if not more than that, to talk about and make decisions on every foreign policy issue we have to deal with.

But I don't want to characterize it any further than that. I think that the Vice President's work to date speaks for itself.

Q: Okay, thanks.

Q: Thanks, Tony, for taking these questions. I wonder if you could just follow up a little more. You've talked about the reset with Russia, and we've talked about the missile defense situation. But how the countries the Vice President is visiting have responded to those? And how much of this trip is meant to soothe concerns on their part that the United States is not fully aware of their fears and worries about where Russia is headed, and where the U.S. relationship with Russia is headed?

MR. BLINKEN: Look, any of these trips are an opportunity to hear firsthand what's on the minds of our closest partners and allies, so we look forward to doing that. We've been very clear from day one that we are seeking to improve relations with Russia, but not at the expense of any of our partners -- our partnerships. And the view we have is that any improvement in U.S.-Russian relations can only improve security in Europe, and will -- to the benefit of all our allies. And I think, again, we're seeing that in the work that Secretary Clinton was doing in Russia just last week, and that the President has done repeatedly with President Medvedev. But our ears are open.

And I think it's very important that we continue to reiterate a very important principle of our foreign policy, particularly with regard to central Europe. And it's a principle that we invoked in the 1990s, and remains important today, and that's nothing about you without you. We're working all of these issues, whether it's missile defense, whether it's NATO strategic concepts, whether it's Afghanistan, the Balkans, Iraq, energy security -- we're working on all of these issues in partnership with the countries in central Europe. We're not making decisions without them. We're making decisions with them, and that's the principle we're proceeding on. And we look forward to hearing all of the ideas that they have on this trip and any concerns they may have.

Q: Thanks very much.

MR. BLINKEN: Thank you.

Q: This is a follow-up on missile defense, as it regards to Poland. In your response to Peter, regarding the technical and adaptive advantages of the new approach on a missile shield, Poland's chief of -- was quoted today -- a new approach of failure in the long-term thinking, and the -- should regard it as part of Europe, that missile shield had only -- not only a military dimension, but a -- in that stance --

MR. BLINKEN: I'm sorry, you're fading in and out a little on my line. Could you -- I'm sorry, would you mind repeating that?

Q: Sure, I'm following up on missile defense as it regards to Poland -- can you hear me better now, Tony --

MR. BLINKEN: Yes, thanks very much.

Q: -- and with regard to the technical and adaptive advantages that you were speaking about regarding the new approach. Poland's Chief of National Security, Aleksander Szczyglo, was quoted today as calling the new approach a failure in long-term thinking in the U.S. administration regarding this part of Europe, and saying that the missile shield has not only a military dimension, but a political and strategic one. How would the Vice President be likely to respond to this opinion regarding the new approach on the new missile shield?

MR. BLINKEN: Well, I didn't -- I haven't seen or heard what he said, so I really don't want to comment directly, because I want to see exactly what the quote was. But, again, without repeating too much of what I said, I think that based on the discussions we've had to date with the high-level defense and discussions we've had in a lead-up to the Vice President's trip, the more our partners look at the substance of what we're proposing, the stronger the support. Because when you look at the facts of what we're -- what we put on the table in terms of meeting an existing threat with technology that works, that covers all of the NATO countries, and gets there sooner, and can be adapted if the threat changes, it is manifestly better for our security and better for your security than the previous system that was designed under a different threat environment with different technology.

And, again, Poland has the possibility -- if it chooses -- of playing a central role in this effort. So in my judgment -- and more importantly, in the judgment of the Secretary of Defense of the President and the Vice President -- this approach makes sense strategically, it makes sense militarily, it makes sense politically. But again, we look forward to hearing all of the views on this, this week, and addressing any of the concerns that our partners may have, and talking through any of the outstanding issues.

Q: Thanks, Tony.

Q: Just a quick question -- back to missile defense. You talked about the new architecture as a more sophisticated, more advanced, more capable system. And I'm wondering if there is anything about the new architecture that should leave Russia feeling more comfortable with this system than they did with the previous one?

MR. BLINKEN: I think that's probably a question better addressed to the Russians than to me. The Russians have expressed some concerns about the previous systems -- which was never directed at Russia -- which the Bush administration, our administration repeated and made clear. But the fact is the decision we took on the new architecture was not based on Russia's concerns; it was based on what best meets our national security interests and that of our allies and the forces that we're protecting in Europe. And that's the basis upon which the decision was made.

If the Russians have a different view of the architecture, that's good, that's fine. But that was not the basis of the decision. But I would just address any questions to them about any concerns they may have had with the old system, and their feelings about the new architecture.

Q: Okay, thank you.

MR. BLINKEN: Thanks very much. Well, thank you all very much. Thanks for taking the time. And we look forward to talking with you over the course of the trip. Thanks.

END 11:35 A.M. EDT



Citation: Barack Obama: "Briefing by National Security Advisor Tony Blinken on the Vice President's Upcoming Trip to Central Europe," October 19, 2009. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=86779.
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