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Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials on the President's Upcoming Meeting with President Zelenskyy of Ukraine

August 30, 2021

Via Teleconference

2:34 P.M. EDT

NSC SPOKESPERSON: Hey, everyone. Thanks for joining us. So, as the moderator noted, we're going to use this call to give you an embargoed preview of President Zelenskyy's visit to the White House on Wednesday, September 1st.

This call is on background, attributable to "senior administration officials," and the contents will be embargoed until 5:00 a.m. Wednesday, September 1st. Again, the embargo does not lift tomorrow, but Wednesday, September 1st at 5:00 a.m. By joining this call, you're agreeing to these ground rules.

Just for awareness, but not for reporting, joining us today is [senior administration official]. And at the end, as the moderator noted, we'll open it up for a few questions.

With that, I'll turn it over to [senior administration official].

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, [senior administration official], and thanks to everybody for joining this afternoon for a look ahead of President Biden's meeting with President Zelenskyy.

As you're all tracking, Zelenskyy will be here on September 1. The message behind our visit is clear: the United States' commitment to Ukraine sovereignty, territorial integrity, and Euro-Atlantic aspirations.

Our view is that, in the 30 years since Ukraine achieved independence, our strategic partnership has never been stronger than it is now.

This visit is going to build on and amplify the sustained engagement of President Biden and the administration over the last eight months or so of the administration.

President Biden has already spoken with President Zelenskyy twice by phone in April and in June. That June phone call, of course, came several weeks before the President met with President Putin in person in Geneva.

In May, Secretary Blinken visited Kyiv in one of his first bilateral visits, as Secretary, to Europe. And just last week, Energy Secretary Granholm led a presidential delegation to Kyiv to represent the administration at the Crimea Platform Summit and celebrations for Ukraine's 30th anniversary of independence.

President Zelenskyy, I believe, is arriving in Washington, D.C., this afternoon, and we'll let the embassy speak to various engagements that he has outside of government.

But tomorrow, he will be holding bilateral meetings with several members of the Cabinet. I will let those agencies read out their meetings and their deliverables, but our expectation is that those will deliver some very tangible outcomes, including announcements on our strategic partnership, as well as new agreements on security, energy, and climate cooperation.

These meetings will then set the stage for the meeting between the two presidents on Wednesday. After that meeting, we'll be releasing a comprehensive joint statement that articulates our shared values and our strategic priorities, as well as a list of concrete deliverables touching on every aspect of our bilateral relationship. And, in a few minutes, I will get to an overview of some of those deliverables.

In terms of the format of the meeting, President Biden and President Zelenskyy will be chairing an expanded bilateral meeting with their key advisors, and then the two leaders will transition to a one-on-one conversation, which will give them the space to communicate with one another more directly.

In these meetings, I expect President Biden to convey his ironclad commitment to Ukraine's security, sovereignty, and Euro-Atlantic aspirations, as well as to discuss Ukraine's ongoing reform program, both in terms of progress that's already been made and areas where continued progress is still needed.

In terms of the agenda for the bilateral relationship, President Biden is prepared to discuss the full spectrum of policy issues that underline the bilateral relationship. And this certainly is a relationship that he has been following for many years, dating back to his very active engagement in Ukraine as Vice President.

On the security side, we look forward to continuing to discuss the security situation that Ukraine is facing vis-à-vis Russia -- continuing to see acts of Russian aggression in the region. And the President will be looking forward to having a more fulsome update from President Zelenskyy on the current security situation.

We will also be discussing ways in which the U.S. can continue to provide security assistance to Ukraine. We sent a notification up to Congress last Friday, that was also posted in the Federal Register, indicating that the U.S. is going to be providing a new $60 million security assistance package for Ukraine. That will include additional Javelin anti-armor systems and other defensive lethal and non-lethal capabilities.

Thus far, the U.S. has committed $2.5 billion in support of Ukraine forces since 2014, including more than $400 million this year alone.

Second, on the reform side, as I mentioned earlier, there's a recognition that Ukraine has already made tremendous progress on governance, rule of law, and anti-corruption reforms since 2014.

And at the same time, we expect the two leaders to discuss the comprehensive reform program that President Zelenskyy is continuing to develop and implement, with an aim to bring the country in line with Euro-Atlantic principles. This includes steps to protect the independence of the anti-corruption institutions, legislation on human rights, as well as other pending legislation and reforms that the Ukrainian government is working on.

Third, in terms of energy, expect the President to continue to discuss our cooperation to bolster collaboration on shared energy and climate goals, including through a reinvigorated Strategic Energy and Climate Dialogue, which will give a strong platform to advance energy security objectives, enhance economic ties, and achieve ambitious climate targets.

This dialogue will also provide the opportunity to expand corporate governance reform at state-owned energy companies, increase the attractiveness of Ukraine's energy industry, and attract the foreign investment needed to achieve energy independence, decarbonization, as well as other clean energy goals.

Also, lots of things to discuss in terms of expanding economic collaboration and, of course, combatting the COVID-19 pandemic, and other shared priorities.

Let me turn now to some of the key deliverables that we expect to announce in this joint statement that we will be putting out after the meeting between the presidents.

First of all, to codify the elevated status of our strategic partnership, the U.S. and Ukraine will announce the reinvigoration of the Strategic Partnership Commission. This commission has not met in three years, and the charter for the commission was written in 2008. So, we are very keen to reinvigorate and revitalize not only the relationship, but also specifically this Partnership Commission as a means of doing that.

We're anticipating a meeting this fall between Secretary of State Blinken and the Ukrainian Foreign Minister. And at that meeting, we expect that they will approve a new charter between our countries that will set out the parameters for how we can work closely together to meet these 21st century challenges.

Second, we're expecting a couple of major deliverables on the defense side. First, as I said, President Biden will announce his approval for a new $60 million security assistance package for Ukraine. And second, the Defense Department will be signing a strategic defense framework that will enhance our cooperation across a range of pressing issues, including Black Sea security, cyber and intelligence sharing, as well as continued support for Ukraine as it faces continuing Russian aggression.

This will build on a strategic defense framework that was written in 2016, and we'll revise and revitalize that, and address new and emerging challenges since that time.

Moving on to the democracy space: As I mentioned, one of the key themes for President Biden will be continued discussion with President Zelenskyy about the reforms that he is undertaking on the governance front. We believe strongly that Ukraine can and should enact additional reforms to strengthen its democracy, and the United States will continue to support Ukraine's efforts to do so.

President Zelenskyy has developed an initiative to develop a transformational reform plan for Ukraine, which is something that we expect President Zelenskyy to preview with President Biden and then roll out more fully at the Strategic Partnership Commission this fall.

We've already provided Ukraine with nearly $2 billion in development assistance since 2014. And we have plans to allocate over $463 million in assistance this year alone.

Turning to energy, the presidents will announce new initiatives to tackle the climate crisis and to advance Ukraine's energy security, including the launch of a reinvigorated Strategic Energy and Climate Dialogue that will be led by the Department of Energy. The aim of this dialogue is to attract energy security investment through reform, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, address other climate change initiatives, and continue to address the impact of Nord Stream 2.

On the economic side, we'll use this visit to deepen our already robust economic partnership. Our two countries will finalize an MOU on commercial cooperation, and the Export-Import Bank and the Ministry of Economy of Ukraine will sign an MOU with an initial amount of $3 billion in EXIM support.

Turning to COVID, as I mentioned, the United States has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with President Zelenskyy as he is similarly dealing with COVID-19. We've already provided $55 million in COVID-related assistance and donated nearly 2.2 million doses of COVID vaccines to Ukraine.

We intend to continue providing assistance to Ukraine, including cold chain storage support and an additional $12.8 million in COVID-related assistance.

And speaking of humanitarian assistance, we are also continuing to support the Ukrainians that remain impacted by the crisis with Russia in in the east, and are pleased to announce that, this year, the U.S. government will provide an additional $45 million in humanitarian assistance to help address Ukrainians that remain in need from that.

So, just to wrap up, we believe this meeting comes at a pivotal moment in the bilateral relationship as we continue to build on ties that bind our two countries together and really seek to take our strategic partnership to an elevated level.

I think, as you'll be able to see from this package of deliverables, we've really tried to look at the relationship in a very holistic way and to find areas for closer cooperation, as well as to revitalize and re-strengthen that cooperation across the full range of sectors, from the political and strategic side to the security side, as well as to the energy and economic side.

And very much looking forward to the meeting here at the White House.

So, let me stop there and happy to answer any questions.

Q: Hey, thank you so much for doing this. I was curious if there was any update on Ukraine being considered for NATO membership -- or at least support from the United States -- of inclusion of Ukraine in NATO. In Europe, in Brussels, at the NATO meetings, Biden was asked about this and he said that Ukraine had to do more to "clean up corruption" to be considered. Has he seen progress there? Has the White House seen progress there? Have you seen progress there? Et cetera. Thanks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks very much for the question. I would point you to the June 2021 NATO Summit communiqué where the United States and its Allies reaffirmed the position from the Bucharest Summit, in terms of supporting "Ukraine's right to decide its own future and foreign policy course free from outside interference," including with respect to Ukraine's aspirations to join NATO.

And as you alluded to in your question, part of the messaging on that and the action around that is the need for the government of Ukraine to continue implementing the deep, comprehensive, and timely reforms that are laid out in its Annual National Program. And so, I would certainly expect part of the conversation between the two presidents to be focused on that.

As part of Ukraine's current Enhanced Opportunities Partnership, it is continuing to make progress in terms of improved interoperability. It is continuing to make reforms to its defense sector, and it's continuing to make progress on its governance sector.

And the United States remains supportive of Ukraine's continued reform efforts across all of these sectors.

Q: Thank you very much. I've got two questions if possible. The first one is related to Nord Stream 2. President Zelenskyy said in an interview that he didn't really have much faith that Berlin and Washington would work together on initiatives to mitigate Russia's energy dominance in Europe. So how will the United States reassure Kyiv that it's going to support the energy independence of Ukraine, especially within this meeting?

And the second question, if I may. I just want to double check: What's the attitude from the White House toward the Ukrainian delegation members, especially toward Zelenskyy's chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, who was responsible for the negotiations with Rudy Giuliani back in the day? Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you very much. On the question of Nord Stream, I think that we have been working across a number of fronts to try and address Ukraine's concerns.

As you know, the President hosted German Chancellor Merkel here earlier this summer, and the two sides agreed on a joint statement on support for Ukraine energy security and our climate goals.

Chancellor Merkel, herself, was in Russia last week to meet with President Putin to start discussing aspects of this, and then she went to Kyiv to have direct conversations with President Zelenskyy to discuss the follow-on from those. And it's certainly an area that we continue to engage with the German government on.

In addition to that, I would flag several things that we have continued to do on our side. One, as I mentioned, we are going to be launching the Strategic Energy and Climate Dialogue with Ukraine, which we see as a way of continuing to work with them on their broader energy goals, in terms -- including energy security, economic ties, energy diversification, and climate. So, in addition to what we are doing with Germany, as a follow-on from the agreement with Merkel, this gives us a channel of dialogue directly with the Ukrainians.

Second, the State Department has recently appointed Amos Hochstein as Senior Advisor for Energy Security. And he will continue working with the Ukrainians, as well as with the Germans and other regional partners, on the importance of maintaining Ukraine's transit role and the security of supply during this period of energy transition.

And finally, as I mentioned, Energy Secretary Granholm was in Ukraine last week to participate in the various events there. And on the margins of her meeting, she held a trilateral meeting with Ukrainian and German counterparts in Kyiv, which was a good opportunity for us to be able to discuss, at a very high level and an appropriate level, with the energy ministers this agreement that the United States had with Germany, Ukraine's perspective on all of these issues, and also the way forward with all of us collectively focused on the same goals.

And we very much look forward to working with Zelenskyy's team to be able to achieve and implement those goals.

Q: Thanks. Hi. Two things. First one just sort of housekeeping. Wasn't this meeting originally scheduled for today? And was it postponed to get it on the other side of the Afghanistan withdrawal deadline, or the hurricane, or both? If you could just explain a little bit on the scheduling.

And then secondly, substantively, President Zelenskyy really didn't make any secret of his hopes to have this meeting ahead of the first time that the President met with President Putin. Obviously, that didn't happen. Do you anticipate that being a point of contention between them?

And in hindsight -- with the benefit of hindsight, might it have helped with the President, when he spoke to Putin, to have had the Ukrainian -- a fresh perspective from the Ukrainian President in his head when he did? Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, Anne. Good to hear from you. On the date change, you are correct that we had initially announced the date of the meeting for earlier. As you know, bringing two heads of state together is a complicated and fast-moving process. I don't want to overly analyze the logistics here, other than to say that we want this meeting to receive the attention that it deserves.

I think, as we have been discussing here, there's a wide range of issues for the two sides to discuss, and really looking forward to having the time and space to be able to do that on Wednesday.

On your second question, I, you know, would leave it to the Ukrainians to speak for themselves on this but don't really expect it to be a point of contention. They did speak on June 7th and had a very long and substantive conversation that included the full range of issues, including the situation in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

And so I think it was very important to the President to be able to connect with President Zelenskyy before he had that conversation with President Putin. And they were able to do that by phone. And so I think they were able to touch base in that context. We have had many subsequent conversations with the Ukrainians on the full range of issues.

And so I think that this meeting is going to be a good opportunity for them to be able to touch base in person in terms of what the President discussed with President Putin during their meeting, as well as the full range of bilateral issues that I have been speaking to.

Q: Hi, thanks for doing this. Building on the last couple of questions, this relationship seems to have gotten off to a somewhat awkward start. Obviously, the Nord Stream disagreements were mentioned, as well as the scheduling of the meeting. I wonder what the message is to the Ukrainians. Do you feel a need to sort of reassure them that this administration is a reliable partner for them?

And then, on the flip side, you mentioned the democratic reforms several times. Do you feel the need for any sort of tough love on that issue?

So, yeah, if you could just address the overall message to the Ukrainians on those two fronts. Thanks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks very much. To your points on the first one, you know, President Zelenskyy and Ukraine have gotten as much, if not more, attention from this administration than any other European country. In terms of visits to the Oval Office, we had Chancellor Merkel here several weeks ago in one of the final meetings with her before the German election. But otherwise, President Zelenskyy is the second European leader that is going to be having a meeting in the Oval Office. It was also one of the first, if not the first, bilateral visits, certainly in Europe, that Secretary Blinken made as well when he went to Ukraine in May.

And as I said, President Biden has already spoken with President Zelenskyy on the phone. And we also had our Energy Secretary there, as well as frequent conversations at various levels of government with Ukraine.

So, I think from our perspective, there really has been a lot of high-level attention paid to Ukraine by this administration from the very beginning, and a lot of interest and excitement here in this visit, which will provide the opportunity not only for the President, but also for a range of Cabinet secretaries to be able to engage with Zelenskyy and his delegation in person across a wide range of areas in our bilateral relationship.

And on the second point, yes, I think that there is going to be a significant discussion within this meeting on the various reforms that Ukraine has already undertaken, as well as the things that need to be done.

You know, Zelenskyy has already made significant progress on various areas of reform and corruption, and so we look forward to having discussions with him about ways that we can support the progress made to date.

I think this includes steps to protect the independence of the anti-corruption institutions that improve their efficiency, legislation on human rights, as well as progress on the reform agenda that's going to be essential to unlocking their Euro-Atlantic aspirations, as I noted before, in addition to general progress strengthening of governance institutions to ensure that democracy is able to deliver justice, prosperity, and security for all Ukrainians.

President Biden has a very long record of support for Ukraine in reform. This was one of the areas that he was very actively engaged in when he was [Vice] President. And we'll be looking for concrete results in this space from our partners in the Zelenskyy administration, but we're also committed to continuing to provide the assistance and other support that will be necessary to help bolster their efforts in this space.

NSC SPOKESPERSON: Thank you, and thanks again for joining, everyone. One last reminder that the contents of this call are embargoed until 5:00 a.m. on Wednesday, the day after tomorrow, and this call was on background, attributable to "senior administration officials."

If we did not get to your question, please reach out and we'll get back to you on those. Thank you and have a great day.

2:58 P.M. EDT

Joseph R. Biden, Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials on the President's Upcoming Meeting with President Zelenskyy of Ukraine Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/352137

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