Background Press Gaggle by Senior Administration Officials
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Geneva, Switzerland
3:58 P.M. CEST
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay, welcome to our flight to Geneva, Switzerland, on day seven of a lovely trip.
I'm going to start by just giving an overview of the logistics for tomorrow so you all have an understanding of what the day looks like.
So, around 1:00 p.m., President Putin is expected to arrive -- should be the first to arrive at the villa where the event is taking place, where the meeting is taking place. He will be greeted by the Swiss President on arrival and taken inside. President Biden will arrive after President Putin and will also be taken back inside.
Inside, they'll share a short greeting with the Swiss President. They will, all three of them, walk back outside where there will be a -- there will be press present for that moment. The only person who is expected to speak during that moment is the Swiss President.
They will then go back inside and they will move into a smaller meeting -- P plus one -- on both sides. Then, after that meeting, there will be -- there's expected to be --
Q: The P plus one, just a translator?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The plus one is the Secretary of State.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Who doesn't speak Russian.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There you go.
Then there is a plan for there to be an expanded portion of the meeting, which is P plus five.
I'm not going to give you the breakdown of time; we'll see how the day goes tomorrow.
After the meeting concludes --
Q: Do we go into these photo ops?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sorry, that's a good question. There will be a spray of the first P-plus-one portion of the day.
Q: In the P plus five, who else is in?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We will get you that list.
Q: But only a spray on the P plus one?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Correct.
Q: The spray will be before or after the P plus one?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Before. At the beginning.
After the meeting concludes, as you all know, we expect President Putin to do his own press conference. I will let them confirm that, but I believe that's the plan. And then President Biden will do a press conference after that.
Those are the logistics.
Let me just also preface from the beginning, just for your expectations: We are not going to go much farther than where the President went during his press conference yesterday in terms of previewing the meeting. We are going to let him speak to that when he concludes the meeting tomorrow. But we still wanted to give an opportunity to have a discussion and provide any clarification as needed.
Q: (Inaudible) question --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.
Q: P plus one: POTUS, Blinken, and a translator? The translators don't count in the numbers?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Correct. And an interpreter. That's right.
Q: One each? One interpreter each, on each side?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Each will have an interpreter, and President Putin will be accompanied by his foreign minister.
Q: And the Russians are saying four to five hours of talks. Is that what you're expecting? Or what?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, in that neighborhood.
Q: (Inaudible) press conference is eight o'clock, thereabout, for our planning purposes?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think we're going to see how the flow goes. This is diplomacy in action, David. Get on the ride.
Q: Four or five hours straight? No break in between? Are they going to share any meals or anything like that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No meals. We anticipate there will be breaks. But as [senior administration official] said, we've agreed with the other side that there will be some flexibility just so that the leaders can make determinations about the best way to conduct their business.
Q: Sorry, just to reiterate: No meal? They won't sit -- they won't have not even tea?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well --
Q: Definitely not tea.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I presume -- I presume that the principals and the participants can ask for some water or coffee or tea. I mean, it's not --
Q: No sort of formal --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Nothing formal.
Q: (Inaudible) break bread
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No breaking of bread.
Q: What is the position on the ambassadors? Do you expect to reach some sort of deal to send ambassadors back to the country?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not going to get ahead of tomorrow, but both ambassadors will be in Geneva.
Q: So, you want to start -- you want to give us an idea of what to expect?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'll start with the baseline of what the President said last night. You guys got to hear from him repeatedly, as there were multiple questions posed about the meeting tomorrow. And happy to answer any questions that you might have.
Q: Are you expecting any specific agreements to emerge from this summit?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think we expect that there will be areas where the presidents will task out further work to their teams. And that's about all I can say today.
Q: Backwards slightly, could tell us a bit more about the discussions the President had with the NATO leaders about tomorrow's summit?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. So, the President, as he said yesterday, led off the discussion. He was the first leader to speak after the Secretary General. He gave about 10 minutes of remarks, which covered a number of different issues, but Russia was a critical point of emphasis in his comments. And he explained to the leaders what he intended to say. He did so privately, behind closed doors, so I'm not going to get into the details of it.
And he asked them to share whatever thoughts or advice they had about the meeting. And several leaders did respond with commentary. And as he said last night, those who spoke to the meeting were positive about the fact that he was doing it and positive about the fact that he was consulting with them in advance.
He also pledged to them that on an ongoing basis -- to the extent, for example, we're working with Russia on arms control-related issues -- he would coordinate closely with NATO so that they had a chance to have input into the arms control agenda.
Q: Was there any specific mention of Russian S400 in the Turkey bilat with President Erdo?an? And will that issue be brought up in the meeting with President Putin?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There was a mention of the Russian S400 system. That's an issue between us and Turkey to do with our domestic law. I don't anticipate it will be covered in the summit.
Q: Was there an agreement with President Erdo?an on the Russian S400 in exchange for Turkish presence at the Kabul airport?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, there was no linkage between the S400 and the Kabul airport.
Q: Back to the Russians: The Russians were saying that one sort of quick for- step could be returning the ambassadors. Is that on the table?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It is a possibility. I'm not going to confirm that until the two presidents have had the chance to meet.
Q: Over the longer term, let me ask about the two big areas you've identified already that will be big subjects: strategic stability and cyber.
On strategic stability, is your concept here to work out from now to something that would be doable after New START expires? So, in other words, have something that rolls together, maybe with the Chinese and others? Or do you have more short-term goals?
And on cyber, I assume you have very short-term goals on ransomware -- not allowing people to operate from their territory. But tell us about -- to the degree you can -- your longer-term goals on state-sponsored activities, since there's been so much of that out of Russia.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, on the first: We are flexible on the timing and format of agreements. It could be more comprehensive; it could be agreements that cover different pieces at different points in time. So, this is not necessarily a circumstance of waiting until New START is expired to do something.
But it is certainly the case -- and I think this is implied in your question -- that we do have a 2026 final expiration of New START. And a big part of the question that the two presidents are trying to answer through these talks is what comes after -- what will come after New START. So --
Q: (Inaudible) China and other players as well?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think, ultimately, we are going to need to have a sustained conversation with China on arms control-related issues. But the President has made clear that, at the outset, a bilateral discussion between the two biggest nuclear powers in the world is the way to start.
Q: And on the cyber side?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Oh, on the cyber side, obviously, ransomware will be a significant topic of conversation tomorrow. They will also discuss the broader issue of cyber norms, cyber rules of the road tomorrow in the discussion.
And the President will make clear that if we see significant types of cyber activity, like we did with SolarWinds, he will respond like we did with SolarWinds. Beyond that, I'm not going to preview the conversation per the President's desire to be able to have the discussion with Putin and then read it out after.
Q: Do you think that was a sufficient response on SolarWinds?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We believe that the response on SolarWinds was, as the President said at the time, proportional. We believe it sent a message about what the United States would and would not tolerate. And so, we judge
that the response we took was the right one. But, of course, this is a larger challenge that is going to require a consistent, steady policy on our part, and we will
approach the issue accordingly.
Q: What's he going to say to Putin about the case of Aleksey Navalny?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'll put it this way:
When the other side tries to say that there are issues that are off the table or that won't be on the agenda, for the American President, nothing is off the table. Certainly human rights are not off the table, and individual high-profile cases are not off the table. But otherwise, I'm not going to preview what he's going to say.
Q: What will he say about Belarus and the recent incident with Ryanair? Is that going to be coming up as well?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, he's already said publicly that he viewed that as an act of egregious air piracy and completely inconsistent with international norms and the rule of law. I don't think you will hear anything inconsistent when he reads the meeting out.
But again, I don't want to be in the position of saying what he's going to say to Putin.
Q: Do you have an objective, like a particular deliverable that you're seeking? Or is that the wrong framing, because it's not about deliverables for you right now?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: During --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So we're not -- we're not expecting a big set of deliverables out of this meeting. We are seeking three basic things:
First, a clear set of taskings about areas where working together can advance our national interest and make the world safer.
Second, a clear laydown of the areas of America's vital national interests, where Russian activities that run counter to those interests will be met with a response.
And third, a clear explication of the President's vision for American values and our national priorities.
Those are the three things that we're trying to accomplish, and the President will do that over the course of the meeting with President Putin.
Q: And can you just tell us a little bit about how has the President prepped for this? What -- you know, had he been meeting with advisors? What has he been doing for this?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He's been preparing for this like he prepares for every significant international engagement. He reviews the issues -- written material; he cares about digging into the details. That very much matters to him. And he's also had the opportunity to engage with a wide variety of advisors across the government who have deep expertise on Russia, as well as to hear from some outside experts as well.
Q: Can you just speak a little bit more about the Baltic countries meeting? Why did the President feel like it was necessary to meet with them first before meeting with President Putin, on top of the NATO and EU allies?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Beyond being necessary, the President really loves those kinds of meetings. I went with him to Lithuania some years ago, and he's just energized by the model and example of these vibrant democracies on the eastern flank.
But specifically, relative to the meeting tomorrow, he wanted to show quite publicly that he was going to stand in solidarity with NATO's eastern flank allies, that he was going to consult with them in advance of the meeting, and that he was going to stand up for their interests in the meeting.
Q: Did they have any advice for him on dealing with Putin, since they live in his neighborhood?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They sure did.
Q: What did they say?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: But I'll leave that to them.
Q: Oh, come on. (Laughs.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: But, yes, they had good advice.
Q: In all his long travels and associations with this part of the world, has he learned any Russian? I mean, literally, like a few words. Or does he speak a spattering of it? Or --
Q: Yeah. Will he say "hello" in Russian, for example, or a "thank you" or anything?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know.
Q: Does he have conversation (inaudible)?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know if he will say "hello."
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't -- I actually -- I have not heard him speak Russian, but I can't confirm one way or the other.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All right. Thank you, guys.
4:12 P.M. CEST
Joseph R. Biden, Background Press Gaggle by Senior Administration Officials Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/350432