Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, Deputy National Security Advisor For Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes, and Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Russian Affairs Michael Mcfaul
Marriott Press Filing Center
Prague, Czech Republic
5:05 P.M. CEST
MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon, folks. I will just start off, speak for a few seconds, turn this over to Ben, who will give you a little bit of the -- talk a little bit about today, Mike will talk a little bit about the bilateral meeting with President Medvedev, and then we'll take some of your questions.
I think we've got -- if you don't have them already, we've got fact sheets. You should be able to access now on the White House Web site the full text of the treaty and the protocols. So if there are any questions along those lines, certainly let us know.
I am -- we'll turn this over now to Ben, who will walk you guys through a little bit about today.
MR. RHODES: Great, well, thanks, everybody. And I'll just set this up for Mike, who can speak more specifically to both the bilateral meeting and the treaty.
But I mean, the first thing I wanted to do is just kind of put this into context. The President, obviously, you've heard him speak many times about the fact that he believes that nuclear weapons, non-proliferation nuclear security, is a top priority for this administration when it comes to national security, because really there's no greater threat of greater consequence to the American people than the threat placed by nuclear weapons if they fall into the wrong hands, or, for that matter, to global security if proliferation continues unimpeded.
To that end, when he came to Prague one year ago this week, he laid out a comprehensive agenda to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, to secure vulnerable nuclear materials in the ultimate pursuit of a world without nuclear weapons.
Again, the President expressed then, as he did today, that it's obviously a long-term goal, one that may not even be reached in his lifetime, but the pursuit of that goal enhances our security and global security.
I'll just point to three key pieces of that speech and that agenda that we've been focusing on this week. The first one obviously is the START treaty. In that speech he called for a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with the Russians. Since then -- Mike can speak to this -- but he's met or phoned President Medvedev I think 15 times, investing a lot personally in the negotiation of this treaty.
I'll just cover some of the topline points because you're familiar with it, but I think that he believes that on its own -- on its merits, the treaty does a substantial amount of things to enhance American national security: reducing our deployed warheads, launchers; having a comprehensive verification regime; having no constraints on our missile defense. He also believes it's very important and fundamental to the kind of agenda he laid out in Prague for the United States and Russia to work together to show leadership in the effort to turn the tide against nuclear proliferation and to achieve nuclear security.
Of course, that's related to both our own nuclear arsenals; that's related to our ability to secure vulnerable nuclear materials; and that's related to the United States and Russia showing leadership within the Non-Proliferation Treaty. By keeping our own obligations, we put ourselves in a stronger position to hold others accountable for violating their own obligations.
Secondly, in Prague a year ago, the President said he wanted to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our National Security Strategy. We did that this week with the release of our Nuclear Posture Review, which had a change in American declaratory policy, again focused very -- in a very targeted way on the Non-Proliferation Treaty and strengthening that treaty so that non-nuclear states who are not in compliance with the treaty or their obligations do not get a security assurance that non-nuclear states that are in compliance with the treaty do get, again, reinforcing this fundamental centerpiece of the global non-proliferation regime, which is the NPT.
The NPR also contains our substantial investments in the stockpile, which will make it possible for the United States to maintain an effective, safe, reliable nuclear deterrent as we pursue these reductions and as we forsake the development of new nuclear warheads. So, again, I think that the second piece of this week that is very critical to the Prague agenda is the NPR that was released earlier.
And then the third thing is, again, in Prague a year ago he called for global effort to secure vulnerable nuclear materials around the world in four years so that they do not fall into the hands of terrorist groups. Again, this is the most immediate and grave threat to American national security. And to that end, he called for a summit of nations that he would host to rally international action behind this goal. We'll be hosting that summit in Washington early next week; 47 nations will be there as well as several international organizations in what is really a gathering of unprecedented scope as it relates to this particular topic and also as it relates to a gathering hosted by an American President in many decades.
So with that I'll turn it over to Mike, who can speak a little bit more about the bilateral meeting, and then we can take your questions.
MR. McFAUL: Thank you, Ben. Let me just start with two points of contact. This is roughly the anniversary of the Prague speech, as you all know, as Ben just said. It's also roughly the anniversary of the first meeting that President Medvedev and President Obama had in London on April 1st. And I want to remind you of that, as we talk about what happened today, and to remind you just how, in a short amount of time, we have gone from aspiration -- if you go back and you read that statement of aspiration of what were going to try to do together to advance our mutual interest -- to actually turning aspiration into concrete outcomes that advance the national security of the United States and advance the national security of Russia. As President Medvedev I think quite rightly said, this is a win-win outcome for both of our countries -- a phrase that President Obama first used in a discussion with President Medvedev on April 1st in London a year ago.
The second contextual point I want to remind you of is where this relationship was just 15 or 18 months ago. In the fall of 2008, I think it's fair to say most analysts would agree that we were at a low point in U.S.-Russian relations; that you have to go back to the early ‘80s to remember a time when there was such confrontation, such zero-sum thinking in terms of this relationship. And since the election, since April 1st, and now on this day, we're in a very different place in terms of how we interact with the Russian government, and especially how the two Presidents interact at the highest levels.
Today's meeting of course was a celebratory meeting to talk about this historic treaty that was signed today. But it was a substantive bilateral meeting. And in fact, the first half of the meeting was on a whole host of economic issues that both President Obama and President Medvedev have challenged each other to bring to the fore of the relationship. They have both stated many times that they do not want this relationship to be unidimensional; they want it to be multidimensional. And we want to talk about arms control, and not just talk but do concrete things, as we did today.
We want to talk about regional security issues -- North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan -- as we always do, and how we can work together to advance our national interests in all three of those places. Speaking of -- I just noted here -- we also talked about Kyrgyzstan today in the meeting. And I would just note that at the beginning of the administration, when we first got here, there was a sense of, it's us against them, the Manas Air Base; who's going to put more money on the table to win that piece of territory.
What was striking today as we talked about our mutual interests and security in Kyrgyzstan was we were not talking in zero-sum terms; we were talking about our mutual interests there.
And then finally, in addition to economics, regional security, arms control issues, the Presidents also talked about advancing our contacts between our civil societies, and our societies more generally. We had a report out from both Foreign Minister Lavrov and Secretary Clinton about the bilateral national commission -- 16 working groups, 15 meetings -- lots of smaller things we can get into details if you're interested of things that are happening to -- again, things like child protection programs that before we didn't have; now we're cooperating together. Counterterrorism was another one of those things.
Again, just to emphasize, this is a multidimensional relationship, and in the discussion today they went through the full range of issues, in addition, of course, to the START treaty.
MR. GIBBS: We will be happy to take some questions. Ms. Loven.
Q: I'd like to ask any of you who want to elaborate on the comments that Medvedev made about how he outlined the limits of sanctions that Russia would support on Iran. Can you talk about that a little bit?
MR. McFAUL: We obviously had a very substantive discussion of Iran in the small meeting that the two Presidents had. We are in the process of beginning a negotiation about a sanctions resolution. All sanctions -- I mean, all negotiations, people talk about their red lines and bottom lines, and we negotiate. The START treaty was all about that, by the way, and as Ben has already noted, takes a lot of work where we try to establish where those are. And that's the context I think you should understand.
President Medvedev has made publicly very clear that he does not support sanctions that will lead to economic hardship for the Iranian people, that would foment economic chaos, or would lead to regime change. We actually agree with him on that.
As he said I think very clearly today in his press -- in his statements, we want to use sanctions as a tool to change Iranian behavior. That's exactly what we're talking about. So when I heard him say we have certain red lines, I think that's the context in which it should be understood.
MR. RHODES: Yes, and I'd just add a couple of things. Mike got it exactly right, in terms of what he described. The other thing I'd say is, we -- it would have been hard to foresee a scenario 15 months ago, given where U.S.-Russia relations were, given where the international community was with regard to Iran. Again, we have to go back to that place where essentially there was no process to apply additional pressure on Iran. They made steady progress on their nuclear program over a period of several years. The great issue was whether the United States would engage with the P5-plus-1 or not. That was the context that this administration came into.
Now, here we are 15 months later, and you heard the President outline basically his theory on the case of sanctions in the press conference where he said we need to hold Iran accountable for their failure to live up to their obligations despite the good faith efforts of the international community. Those sanctions need to be targeted in a way that they're strong and they're smart and they affect Iranian behavior.
President Medvedev spoke right after that and said, I wouldn't disagree with anything that President Obama said. So I think the international community has come a long way in forging a united front that leaves Iran more isolated.
And I'd echo Mike's point, too, which is that as it relates to sanctions that would cause grave humanitarian consequences for the Iranian people, we're not interested in that either. Again, what I would say is what's happening now is the negotiation of a package of measures that are focused in different areas in the best way possible to change Iran's behavior. So that's what's going on in New York right now.
MR. GIBBS: Let me just add one thing. I sat at lunch with Bill Burns, who is a career diplomat, who the President first met in 2005 when he traveled with Senator Lugar to Russia. Bill said to me, the type of conversation the two Presidents had today, he could not even envision that conversation starting in January of 2009. That gives you a sense, as Mike said, at the level at which our relationship existed.
And as I said when we briefed a few of you guys on the plane, we're no longer coming out of these meetings in a pool spray, you guys are looking to see if the Russians are going to come to the table or going to be part of what's happening in the U.N. Security Council. That's what's taking place. That's a -- we've crossed that bridge to a place, again, that I think very few people thought we would get to or would be attainable at this point in the relationship.
Q: (Inaudible) conversation that took place today figuring in the conversations that the President will have with Hu Jintao -- I guess is it Monday or whatever -- Monday or Tuesday, whatever day --
MR. GIBBS: I think it's Monday morning.
MR. RHODES: Yes, I'd just say a couple things, Jennifer. First of all, the negotiations -- the Chinese are an active part of the negotiations in New York. And so there's a multilateral negotiation taking place about the package of sanctions that we aim to pass this spring.
Secondly, these meetings, therefore, at the leader level are an attempt for leaders to discuss their view of the current state of play as it relates to Iran; their view of what should go into a sanctions regime and the package that might be developed; and again, to have a bilateral discussion about how each country sees this particular challenge.
So there's a bilateral -- and I think what we've seen throughout the year is that at important junctures the President's bilateral meetings and conversations with these leaders helps kind of move things forward, reinforces our positions, what we're trying to achieve. But as it relates to the detailed negotiation, that's taking place in a multilateral setting, because it's not just the United States and Russia, it's not just the United States and China, it's the P5-plus-1 and the members of the U.N. Security Council.
Q: Follow up on the Iran thing. Did Medvedev outline his limits, as he did publicly? In other words, no hardship, blah, blah, blah, or did he get more specific? "I would agree that we need three types of things; I don't favor these two types of things." How tangible --
MR. McFAUL: We discussed the categories of the new resolution today, Peter. Just as in the START negotiations, we didn't read out where we're at every point, I think it would be inappropriate to do here as well. And I would just remind you that this is not just a bilateral negotiation; it's multilateral.
But we're into the heart of discussion, what should be in the resolution. We have moved beyond just saying sometimes sanctions are necessary or inevitable. We are talking about a concrete process, concrete categories.
Q: -- he gave you specifics that you have not heard before.
MR. McFAUL: Yes, we had specific discussions on the range of categories which you're all familiar with, where we talked about what should be in the resolution and what should not.
MR. RHODES: And I'd just add one thing, which is that -- both Presidents made this point today, too. The sanctions are part of a broader strategy, right, which is designed to affect Iran's behavior. So these categories are part of a discussion of steps that could be taken to have the greatest chance of applying that cost-benefit analysis without having undue other negative consequences like we've discussed with the humanitarian situation, for instance.
And again, it's also part of a range of actions that we're taking as it relates to Iran. We've tightened enforcement on unilateral sanctions as well. Again, our NPT, we believe -- our NPR, I'm sorry -- and the actions we've taken to strengthen the NPT has been part of an effort that has isolated Iran from the international community because of its failure to live up to its obligations.
So this is all taking place from the details of the sanctions regime to the broader picture of steps that we're taking across a spectrum of areas to affect the behavior of the Iranian regime going forward and their continued failure to live up to their obligations.
MR. McFAUL: Can I add just one other thing? One other thing I wanted to say -- I apologize -- it's important to understand one other thing, at least it's striking to me, again, remembering the -- where we were just 15, 18 months ago. These two Presidents now have negotiated really hard, big things already. They've been through a process to do it. So we're having a real conversation. We're not reading talking points and we're not talking about we'll get back to you. They have an ability now, because of the experience of the START treaty, to get into it in a very substantive way.
MR. GIBBS: Mike.
Q: So just to continue just a little bit more on what Peter said, do you guys have paper now that you have brought back from this that you guys will then go evaluate and do you have any sense of whether or not the things that came up in his list of things that he would do and that he wouldn't do have sort of pushed forward or pulled back in terms of where you guys would like to be?
And then finally, last question is, there were some diplomats out there saying they want to get this done by the end of April. Does that match up with your spring timeline, or is that too soon to you?
MR. GIBBS: I can confirm April is in spring. (Laughter.)
MR. McFAUL: Just on the process, again, having just emerged from very complex negotiations about START, it's a multi-tiered process that Ben alluded to. They meet, they have discussions. They then send instructions -- and that was a word used today -- to their negotiators, and here we have this interim step as well, the P5-plus-1. That process took a step forward today. And so that will continue. But it took a step forward.
Q: And end of April?
MR. McFAUL: I'll leave April to these guys.
MR. GIBBS: I don't know that I'd parse April, May. I would just leave it in the broader context of the spring.
Q: So you're leaving out (inaudible) May through June? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: No, those also are part of spring. Thank you.
Q: Can you elaborate a bit more on the discussions on Kyrgyzstan between the two leaders? And also, to follow up on Jennifer's question, you said that now President Obama and President Medvedev, that they have moved past talking points. How then does that help to bring China onboard? How can that be used to get China?
MR. McFAUL: So, on Kyrgyzstan, President Medvedev brought it up. He pulled the President aside; he wanted to just exchange notes and kind of exchange information about what we know.
As you know, we have the Manas Transit Center there, so we're very keenly following what's happening in Kyrgyzstan.
The tone of the conversation, just to, again, as I remember, this is one of the first things we had to deal with when we came in. And as you may recall, the Russians offered a $2 billion package to President Bakiev, in fact, and the quid pro quo implicitly was at, you know, you got to get rid of the Americans.
That was an entirely different conversation today. We have interest in stability. We want to make -- we want to monitor that the troops stay where they are; exchanged information about what we knew about the opposition leaders and the regime. We were thinking about cooperative measures, perhaps the OSCE. We didn't get into details, but should there be joint statements, that that could help to facilitate -- to deal with this crisis together.
MR. RHODES: On your second question, Julianna, I'd say we've always had a view that there are different layers at which you can apply pressure. We in the United States could simply pursue sanctions and strongly condemn Iranian actions. We could work kind of exclusively with a smaller number of countries to do the same.
But what our view from the beginning has been is that if you really want to broaden the ability to isolate Iran and to affect its cost-benefit analysis as it relates to their continued failure to live up to their obligations, that you needed to bring in a broader coalition, and that Russia and China would be important parts of that effort.
So that's the strategy that we've pursued in our engagement throughout the course of the last 15 months is facilitated the broadening of this coalition and the transition from the focus being on the United States to the focus being on the Iranians.
At every step, I think what you've seen, as Mike said, what's really interesting is that at key junctures, the ability of President Obama and President Medvedev to work together has been important, and reinforcing the unity of the P5-plus-1, and again, and applying greater pressure on the Iranians. And that helps add momentum to this process.
So as it relates to China, they have actually been there throughout the P5-plus-1 process. They've signed on to the dual-track approach in the fall. They, too, have an interest in preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. And they've now entered into the multilateral negotiations that we're having.
So to the extent to which our continued work with the Russians reinforces the broader P5-plus-1 unity, that can only be helpful to our efforts at the United Nations and our efforts to build a broad-based coalition.
Q: The President and President Hu -- they meet on Monday morning?
MR. RHODES: They meet on Monday, I believe, yes, that's right. And they'll discuss, as was the case today, and as you all know, a broad range of issues, one of which will be Iran, but the United States-China relationship is very comprehensive.
MR. GIBBS: Let me just -- I just want to add one thing broadly to the series of questions about negotiation and the sort of dialogue and relationship between the two leaders now.
As you've heard Ben and Mike mention, they've met and talked on the phone, I think this was their 15th time of doing that. Just to give you guys a little bit of background, the smaller bilateral meeting, which was the President, Secretary of State Clinton, National Security Advisor Jones and Mike -- there were two meetings, that and an expanded bilateral meeting. The space for both meetings was to take 85 minutes. The meeting that -- the smaller meeting that Mike, Secretary Clinton, Jones and the President were in went 85 minutes. We essentially got -- we were behind schedule on some of this stuff today largely because the space that that took up, they met an additional 15 minutes in the expanded bilateral.
And I would say this, in riding back to the hotel with the President, he remarked to a couple of us as we were driving that -- to give you just a little context of the not-trading-talking-points type of relationship, he genuinely feels like they can sit down or call each other and work through a series of issues in a very frank and honest way; that each side is negotiating -- always negotiating in good faith, and that there's a level of confidence and trust also that's built up in the two sides working together on issues like this, which I think is certainly important as we move forward in both multilateral relationships that involve the two countries, as well as the continued level of bilateral issues that the two leaders will work through over the course of the next several years.
Q: Afterward -- after the President and Medvedev, the two Presidents spoke, we spoke with Sergei Ryabkov, who said that a total embargo on deliveries of refined oil products to Iran would be a slap, a blow, a huge shock for the whole society, and it was something that they were absolutely not going to entertain. So what is the status right now of possible sanctions on the Iranian energy sector? Does it mean that -- basically that the Russians have taken that off the table?
MR. McFAUL: Again, I want to not get into reading out the negotiations. But we discussed energy today. You shouldn't be -- obviously. And it is not off the table.
Where it ends out, I honestly don't know, but it is not a category that has been taken off the table today.
Q: So did you talk about refined oil products?
MR. GIBBS: Jonathan, I don't think we're going to get a whole lot more specific than --
MR. RHODES: But, wait, wait -- I'd say one thing, Jonathan. Again, what we're talking about is putting together a package. Energy can be one category in which we continue to pursue discussions about measures that could be a part of it. But there's also a very broad range of different places in which you could apply pressure on a regime.
So, again, this is going to be -- the reason this takes time to put together is that we want to put together the most effective package that is strong and smart, as I think both Presidents said today, and again, as both Presidents said, have the aim of affecting the Iranians' calculus.
So I wouldn't get into the specifics within those categories, but I would just echo what Mike said, too. We have made it clear, too, that we would not want the result of these sanctions and the aim of these sanctions to be, as the President said, the bringing down of Iranian society. We have not set regime change as a goal for these sanctions. And we would not want the purpose of these sanctions to be widespread suffering among the Iranian people. We want the focus of these sanctions to be the Iranian government and the cost-benefit analysis that affects their choices going forward over time, because this is not something that's going to happen at once. It's going to be a steady process of applying different kinds of pressure from different places. One of those is a multilateral sanctions regime, but of course there are other ways of applying pressure as well, some of which we're already pursuing.
MR. GIBBS: Yunji.
Q: In that same conversation with the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, they seem to indicate that the START treaty is not at all a done deal for them. He said to us that they don't want to hold the Duma hostage and that they hope to have something passed by the U.S. midterm elections when it comes to START ratification. Is that a timeframe that works for the U.S.? And what is the parallel timeline for the Senate?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the timeline that we've largely laid out is this year. So I think the timeline that he laid out seems quite parallel to what we're doing. I've made this point on a number of occasions; I'll take the opportunity to do it again, as the President did. I think if you look at a series of nuclear arms reduction treaties, you see broad bipartisan majorities. You see votes in the 90s; you see the dissenting vote in the single digits. This has traditionally been a bipartisan issue.
That is why you have folks like Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, who have taken the positions that they have. You see Senator Lugar as somebody, again, who wants to see the Senate take this up and work on it quickly.
So I do think it will be a test for Washington to see whether or not the traditional bipartisanship that we have generally seen on these types of treaties -- 1988, 1992, 2003 -- if that kind of bipartisan cooperation in our national interest is -- continues.
Q: So it sounds to me like you're not anticipating a fight?
MR. GIBBS: I don't doubt that -- I have turned on C-SPAN-2 sometime in the last 15 months; I understand you could probably quibble over renaming a post office on any given day in the United States Senate. That's not to say at the end of the day there isn't enough space and time to do this this year, and to demonstrate again for the American people that we have the ability to work together on things that make sense for our national interest.
The President reiterated today this is something that his Secretary of Defense was heavily involved in; that the Joint Chiefs of Staff were heavily involved in. So I don't see why there wouldn't be an opportunity to redemonstrate bipartisanship.
MR. RHODES: I would just add to that -- and then Mike might speak to the Duma --
MR. McFAUL: No, I want to talk about the treaty, a historical comparison. (Laughter.)
MR. RHODES: What I want to say about the -- why we feel like -- again, this is going to be -- this is in the tradition of strong bipartisan support for arms control. We believe that this treaty does a range of things to advance America's national security, from the cooperation with Russia, to the reduction in our deployed warheads and delivery vehicles and the benefits that that has as relates to broader non-proliferation nuclear security. And we also have been consulting with the Senate throughout some of these negotiations.
Secretary Gates alluded to some of those consultations when he briefed that -- the treaty when we announced the agreement, and he said, well, look, we took onboard, for instance, that there is great interest from some senators in missile defense. And this treaty doesn't place any constraints on the missile defense that we are developing in Europe, and so we feel very comfortable that on missile defense we can go to the Senate and say there are no constraints on missile defense in this treaty.
As it relates to the stockpile -- because any time you have reductions, very legitimately, people are interested in maintaining the reliability of the deterrent -- we've made substantial investments in the infrastructure, the science and technology and human capital around our stockpile, in a manner that Secretary Gates also spoke to the other day, that really increases his confidence in actually maintaining a safe, effective, and reliable stockpile at lower numbers.
So we believe that on some of the key issues that will be of interest to people, as well as the broader and fundamental issue of the importance of this kind of arms control agreement and this cooperation that we're pursuing on non-proliferation in nuclear weapons with Russia, we believe that we have a very effective case to make that the treaty that was reached today is comprehensive, in our national interest, and in the global interest.
MR. McFAUL: I'm not going to speak about the politics in either country, but I do want to say a little bit about the treaty, just compared to other treaties. There have been other treaties that have been signed that were not completed, and therefore they had to be completed before they could go up to the Senate. There have been other treaties where the balance of what's in the treaty, the protocol, and the annexes fell more to the annexes.
We had to make a decision whether we should sign the treaty and leave the protocol for later, and it was President Obama's view is we're not going to do that because when we get to this moment we want to have everything lined up. We did something historic today -- it's up, right, guys? We did something historic today. Usually you sign the treaty and it goes off in some box and then months -- it goes to the senators and then you see it later. You can all see it right now because the treaty and the protocol is done. And if you were at the signing ceremony you saw them sign the treaty, and then you saw that big black thing and the red -- that's the protocol. We made a determination to finish that first.
There are some technical annexes, but we're -- there are only three, and we're days from completing them. So we're -- and then the other thing I would say, different -- two other things I'd say that's different from previous processes, we've had an interagency process in our government; at an intense period, we had two SVTSes a day with our negotiators in Geneva, with the full interagency there, including the intelligence community, where we were in sometime four hours of interaction. So the knowledge about the treaty among all those in the government that need to know, that need to report on it, is already way beyond what it would have been for earlier treaties when that was not happening.
And then the last thing I would just mention is we have already begun to brief our colleagues on the Senate. We've had Senator Lugar in; we've had Senator Kerry in twice now already -- maybe, Robert, you want to say more about -- including right now.
MR. GIBBS: I would say that Denis and other members of the negotiating team are at the hotel right now briefing Senate staff over secure video teleconference on the specifics of what are in the treaty. They're having obviously, because it's on the Internet, an opportunity to look through and ask questions of that. I think it's safe to say that we will spend a lot of time and our team will spend a lot of time meeting with individual senators and individual senators' staffs over the next many months to make this happen.
Ben [Chang] has -- $4.95 you can get a copy of that right over there.
Q: A couple of questions about Kyrgyzstan. A senior Russian official accompanying Medvedev is saying that Russia --
MR. GIBBS: I think that got read out just a minute ago, so I don't know if we need to do the senior official. But go ahead.
Q: No, it's about something different -- it's saying that Russia will urge the new Kyrgyzstan government to close the U.S. base. Does this go against the new, better tone in the relationship?
And also, Michael, you said that -- you talked about issuing a joint statement on Kyrgyzstan, but why did you opt not to? Is it because you couldn't agree? And then, finally, are you going to recognize the Kyrgyzstan government, the interim government?
MR. McFAUL: well, on the first issue, I was standing next to the two Presidents discussing Kyrgyzstan and the notion that we need to close the Manas Air Base or the Manas Transit Center was not discussed. That just simply seems spurious to me, but I don't know who that person is. That was not at all discussed in the conversation.
Second, on whether a joint statement or not, we're just -- we're trying to keep the peace right now. Recognizing governments, all those processes, that comes way down the line. It's really too early to get into those kind of discussions. The people that are allegedly running Kyrgyzstan -- and I'm emphasizing that word because it's not clear exactly who's in charge right now -- these are all people we've had contact with for many years. They're not -- this is not some anti-American coup. That we know for sure. And this is not a sponsored-by-the-Russian coup. I've heard some reports of that. There's just no evidence of that as yet.
By the way, one last thing, because we are in Prague and I wanted to mention it in the beginning; I forgot -- if Robert will forgive me. Robert rightly talked about the relationship that these two gentlemen have in talking about a lot of issues. This is not a talking point reading conversation; this is a give-and-take, this is where they're really trying to solve problems and advance our, for us, our interest, and for them, their interest. Nobody is going to do anything that's not in their interest.
But I also want to -- and I think we've made remarkable achievement in a short amount of time. But I also want to underscore we also talked about the things that we disagree about. Today we had a very long conversation, for instance, about European security. And 15 months ago, that was a very -- before we were here, you all know, there was a lot of confrontation, including military confrontation, about European security, and very much a zero-sum mentality about Russia versus Europe versus United States.
The conversation today was not about that. Neither -- we're going to disagree about things, and we did today -- I want to underscore that -- but this notion that somehow if we work with Russia that's to the disadvantage of our allies, like the Czech Republic -- that's absolutely absurd. And the fact that these two guys know each other well enough and can speak candidly and frankly about red lines, about security and alliances and things we cannot do and can do, shows I think the maturity of where this relationship is now that it simply wasn't just a couple of years ago.
Q: Can I just clarify one thing? So the reason you didn't issue the joint statement was that you're trying to keep the peace and it's an evolving situation, you just felt it was too soon? Is that --
MR. McFAUL: We need to find the right modality for the right time. We've already put things on the record; they have put things on the record. I don't -- I wouldn't focus on the -- we didn't discuss a joint statement. We talked in general terms about things we've got to coordinate and they instructed people like me to go off and do that. And when we're done here I'll go off and do that.
We just want to think about what is the problem and what are the mechanisms to solve them. I wouldn't focus too much on whether a joint statement is the right tool or not.
MR. GIBBS: Mike, do you have a follow?
Q: Yes, just a real quick follow-up. You guys several times now have talked about the relationship, the personal relationship between these two guys. A year ago, maybe in this room -- I can't remember -- I think also in London on the first trip, you guys talked specifically about how you wanted to reject the kind of "look into your soul," the sort of personal relationship between Bush and the other -- and sort of focus more on the kind of interest of the countries and less on the relationship. Has that changed? Have you guys after 15 months or 12 months sort of come to the conclusion that those personal relationships are more important than you thought they were?
MR. McFAUL: No. I would put it this way -- I think I know who you're quoting back -- we want to have a substantive relationship with Russia that advances American interests -- security, economic, our interest in promoting universal values. That's the relationship we want with Russia. Putting an adjective -- "friendly," "happy," all that kind of stuff -- that's not the objective of our policy towards Russia.
Now, as it happens, if you can build a constructive relationship, it helps to have chemistry, and I would say the reverse is true. You develop chemistry if you get things done. And the fact that these guys are getting things done -- they're just extremely pragmatic. I really cannot emphasize that enough, that both President Obama and President Medvedev look at the issues and say, okay, how can we advance our -- how can we get things done that's good for you and good for me. Not grandiose speeches about -- big slogans about this or that. That's the kind of relationship they have. And if you get things done then you feel good about the relationship.
MR. RHODES: I'd just add the relationships do extend throughout the government, right? And you actually heard both Presidents make this point today. They negotiated very closely. Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Lavrov were there; Admiral Mullen and his counterpart. I'm sure they put up with Mike. So there's a deep -- our negotiating team is in Vienna. So there was a very deep -- it's not simply the two leaders; there's a broader context to this.
But again, I'll just -- to return to where I started, the President laid out -- the reason we're here today in part is that the President -- well, the reason we're in Prague is because the President laid out this agenda on what he believes to be the top national security danger to the United States, which is nuclear proliferation and nuclear security. He sees that as a fundamental interest of the United States.
And so we're here one year later because he worked with Russia on behalf of that interest. And I think you've heard me say that we believe that that action, too, is in service of a range of other things we're going to do, because when we work with Russia we're better able to secure vulnerable nuclear materials and we're better able to apply pressure to those nations like Iran that break the rules.
So this relationship that the two of them have struck we believe is part of a broader interest-based cooperation between the United States and Russia. And frankly, I think, as relates to Russia, our theory from the beginning was when the United States and Russia can work together on areas of common interest it's a huge benefit to American national security, to Russian security, and to global security. So when this relationship is working it can have great benefit for us.
And the case the President made when he was in Moscow was that our interests are common. Russia does not have an interest in an arms race in the Middle East. They've been with us on North Korea, as have the Chinese, because they don't have an interest in an arms race in East Asia -- and on a range of other issues that were discussed today.
MR. McFAUL: Just a footnote on Ben's very excellent point, next week we have a major delegation from Russia attending the nuclear security summit. The following week we have a major delegation from their security council coming to see General Jones and us. The following week after that we have General Makarov that Admiral Mullen is hosting the following week after that. And the following week after that we have a very senior-level delegation from Russia coming to the White House and to other agencies to talk about WTO. And that is a normal month in the pace of U.S.-Russia relations today that was not there before.
Q: What can the President do or say tonight to reassure the Central Europeans that this warming relationship between the U.S. and Russia does not come at their expense?
MR. McFAUL: The very way you set up the question is wrong. I mean, we have been clear-cut from day one, from April 1st, that as we advance our interests with Russia in seeking mutual cooperation, we're not going to link that to other places as a quid pro quo. And we've been criticized for that policy because some people want us to link other things, right -- to link the START treaty to human rights. The Russians would like us to link cooperation in this area to cooperation in that. And we've been categorical from the Vice President's speech in Munich to that April 1st meeting, that just is simply not a game we're going to play.
And on the -- conversely, the more positive way, just rejecting that it comes that way, conversely, we believe that a more substantive relationship with Russia where we can talk about the things that Robert described, including the things that we disagree about, and including just informing them about things that maybe we wouldn't have talked about before -- when I think about some of the things that they'll be talking about tonight -- that that actually is good for security in this region of the world, not bad for security. It's not a zero-sum game. It actually can be beneficial to both.
Conversely, when we have a confrontational relationship with Russia -- and I would add, if you think historically, thinking of where we're at here today -- when we're in a very confrontational relationship with Russia that generally has not been good for security in this region of the world.
Q: (Inaudible) treaty, but the President did say he wants to go further. So I'd like to ask Mike what's next on the agenda? What do you envision the next treaty will confront, deal with, try to solve? Do you agree with most arms control experts that the next one will be much more difficult than this initial one? And what degree of concern do you have about Russian anxiety about missile defense and Prompt Global Strike weapons in those negotiations?
MR. RHODES: Yes, I'd say a number of things, Major. Actually the President, even as early as here in Prague a year ago, forecasted that there would be future negotiations for reductions after START. I think that today he spoke to certain categories that we were going to look at; that that would include both strategic and tactical reductions and it would include non-deployed weapons.
Obviously there's -- we recognize the fact that missile defense, as we were talking about offensive weapons, that the defensive system of our missile defense is of great interest to us because we want to be able to preserve the flexibility that we need to protect the American people, and to the Russians because they're interested in their strategic balance, as you heard President Medvedev say. So as you heard President Obama say today, we'd like to have a very comprehensive dialogue with the Russians about how we can build cooperation on missile defense.
So I think what -- and this goes to the broader point, but the ability to get this treaty done -- and it's a very comprehensive treaty that involves both deployed warheads, launchers, verification regimes -- I mean, in that sense, that's why it's broader than the -- it's more comprehensive than the Moscow Treaty -- it's a follow-on to START -- the ability to get that done, again, develops these contexts. We've already discussed some of these issues in the context of START. They'll be very difficult and this will be a process that unfolds over time.
But the President's fundamental view is that we -- when we move in the direction of reductions, when we're cooperating with other nuclear weapons states, particularly Russia given the size of our two arsenals, that that enhances global non-proliferation, global nuclear security, and again, that fundamental mechanism by which we hold nations accountable, the NPT, because we are keeping our commitments to reduce.
And you're absolutely correct. The lower you go, the more complicated the negotiations get, because as the President would say, as long as nuclear weapons exist we would never compromise our deterrent and our ability to extend that deterrent to the American people and to our allies. And naturally that's a view that the Russians have as well.
So those discussions will continue. We believe START is a very historic and landmark milestone along the way -- I just used three words in a row -- it's a milestone along the way in this effort, but it's not the end of the journey. But it opens the door to further reductions because it provides for that drop in strategic warheads and delivery vehicles.
MR. McFAUL: Just one quick note on missile defense. You already heard -- I'm sorry -- you heard what the President said already. I'd just note that in the private meeting they also discussed in more substance how we can cooperate on missile defense. It's going to be a long negotiation but it's a subject that we've already begun to discuss.
Q: I was wondering if you could just talk a little bit about the summit next week, elaborate on its unprecedented scope and particularly how you think today's signing will impact the dialogue.
MR. RHODES: Yes, I'd say a number of things and I think we'll have a more detailed briefing tomorrow with
Gary Samore and some of the folks who are particularly focused on the summit.
MR. RHODES: No, on a call. I think there is a call. People will be in different places, so we'll get you a time.
But a few things I'd say on the historic nature. I think that -- I think that we found – Ben [Chang], who is a State Department guy, can correct me if I'm wrong -- that this is the largest summit hosted by an American President since the San Francisco conference related to the United Nations. Obviously there have been other summits connected to existing bodies like the U.N. or the G20, but this kind of gathering that is focused on an issue, that the President calls a gathering of nations around a particular issue, I think it's been that many decades since we've seen anything like that in the United States.
We believe that -- the reason we're doing that is because, again, it cannot be underscored enough and it can be lost, frankly, somewhat in the discussions about other elements of this broader non-proliferation package. We've spent a lot of time talking, for instance, about Iran, understandably and correctly today, but the vulnerable nuclear material around the world that exists is a great threat to the United States because we know that terrorist groups are actively seeking to buy or obtain those materials. That's a threat to the United States. It's obviously a threat to Russia, which has a terrorist threat as well.
So what we want to do, because we know this problem is out there, there are measures that can be taken to address it, to lock down this vulnerable material. So we want to bring together 47 countries with a critical interest in this and rally them behind the kind of collective action that can secure these vulnerable materials within the next four years.
And just to give you one example, I think today you saw the story of Chile shipping its high-enriched uranium out of the country as a part of this effort to provide greater nuclear security. So what we're trying to do is build a collective action as well as the specific steps that individual countries can take.
Now, the United States and Russia, again, as the countries that have the two -- 90 percent of the nuclear weapons and a lot of experience, frankly, with the Cooperative Threat Reduction in some of these lockdown mechanisms, when we're working together it's almost inconceivable to think through how you could pursue an ambitious nuclear security agenda without the United States and Russia being a leading part of that effort.
So again, we think that this is an area where the partnership that we've developed with the Russians that is embodied and is best demonstrated by the New START treaty will help us advance this other very important component of the nuclear security and non-proliferation agenda which will be the focus of the summit. Because, again, all of these different pieces -- the reduction of our arsenals, the investment in our reliability of our stockpile, the NPT, the actions with regard to Iran, nuclear security -- they are all mutually reinforcing as it relates to our ability to strengthen the Non-Proliferation Treaty and to secure the American people and to secure these nuclear materials.
MR. GIBBS: Let's make this the last one --
Q: We'll make it a two-part then.
MR. GIBBS: This will be the second to the last and then --
MR. RHODES: I started to get really tired. (Laughter.)
Q: Mike said we're going to disagree, and there are things we disagreed on today. I wonder if you could tell us what they were. Secondly, in the treaty you say -- the treaty specifically says that the number of -- aggregate number of these launchers and warheads and so forth is going to be released to the public. And you're talking about transparency and putting this up on the Web. Can you give us, either now or at some point in the -- soon -- the number of warheads and launchers that you all believe you have, as counted by this treaty, now, so we can know exactly how much impact this will have?
MR. McFAUL: That's really a declassification issue we're talking about. I think we need to get back to you, Peter, in terms of on the second -- on the second. Sorry?
Q: The treaty specifically says all that information can be released so --
MR. GIBBS: They're ahead of us on the declassification. (Laughter.)
MR. McFAUL: Like I said, it's historically unprecedented that we hit the send button in the 21st century and this is part of -- but I'll get you a better answer to that because there is an answer to it and it does have to do with our declassification process, which we're pushing on but it's -- we're not done yet.
On the first question, I would just say in broad terms, we had lots -- it was particularly talking about European security. What I was struck by is an assessment of the problems, some interesting agreement about some possible solutions, and again, I think it would be premature to get into the modalities, but how -- like really practical problem-solving, but perhaps some disagreement about what setting, where, institutions -- we just have a different view about which is the right setting to deal with that. I would not overplay it, but on those kinds of things.
Before we'd have a long list of things we disagree about. Georgia came up today again. And we --
MR. McFAUL: Just in the kinds -- (laughter) --
MR. GIBBS: You only got two questions, Peter, and that was -- that now falls outside the realm of --
Q: Mike was so eager to tell us about the differences. He was eager to tell us.
MR. McFAUL: Let me say one thing -- can I say one thing? One thing, let me say this. So -- and this is something we said well before the election, that mechanisms for crisis prevention in Europe need to be strengthened. That's something we've said. It's part of the way we talk about security. Prevention mechanisms, alert, all those kinds of things that so when we see a potential conflict brewing we have ways to defuse it, rather than just reacting to it after -- afterwards. And Georgia was invoked today in that discussion, right?
And we agree on that. And that was interesting, that we both think that to enhance that, to enhance transparency of forces in Europe -- we agree. And by the way, our colleagues tonight agree on that, too. That will be a subject we discuss on that.
How to do it, what's the modality, treaties, institutions, that's the part that we haven't got there. But we did make progress, I believe, on saying that this was a problem. We had a disagreement, now we have agreement that this would be, for instance, one very concrete thing that would enhance security in Europe. Now let's just figure out the right way to do it.
MR. RHODES: The only thing I'd add to that is that this gets at the zero-sum question, which you heard President Medvedev mention win-win today but --
Q: In English.
MR. RHODES: In English. I wouldn't know how to say it in Russian. But I think the President's point, right, as it relates to Russia, to Europe, and frankly to a whole set of relationships around the world is that when you really get down to core issues, whether it's economic growth, nuclear proliferation, climate change, that there is a very broad basis of shared interests and common interests, and that in certain instances -- in many instances, actually, and Russia was one of them when we came in -- habits of international relations and relationships between nations didn't reflect those common interests.
So we fundamentally believe that -- and I think if you looked at where things are today in terms of European security and Russia generally, that they've advanced since we've been in office; and that the President can come here to Prague and sign a major arms control agreement with the Russian President and have dinner with 11 NATO allies that night, and it underscores the fact that these relationships in no way come at the expense of the other, and in fact when the United States and Russia are able to address these issues in a very candid and robust way, that it can enhance the security of Europe more broadly.
So, with that, we'll take -- I think we're done.
MR. GIBBS: One more. One question. We're not doing a seven-part Peter Baker question. Sorry, I had to -- it was more like four, but we'll -- go ahead, I'm sorry.
Q: The President mentioned that he brought up the suicide bombing in Moscow to Medvedev. Can you elaborate a little bit what he talked about and what he said, what the United States would be doing to help?
MR. McFAUL: They did discuss it, obviously. The President -- President Medvedev was very gracious and thanked President Obama that he called that day, and he said that meant a lot to him. They talked about this is a common problem, this is an international problem. We have a working group on counterterrorism that we stood up as part of the binational commission. They talked about ways that they might enhance that and have a focus -- more resources, higher-level discussion. Actually we're going to be discussing it in two weeks' time in Washington with our Russian counterparts. That was planned well before the terrorist attacks in Moscow.
And it just was talked about in the context of, all right, this is a global problem. It obviously affects your national security; it obviously affects our national security. Let's think of ways that we can work together and work in parallel. It doesn't necessarily have to be joint projects to advance our common goal when it comes to this other issue.
MR. GIBBS: Thanks, guys.
END 6:09 P.M. CEST
Robert Gibbs, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, Deputy National Security Advisor For Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes, and Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Russian Affairs Michael Mcfaul Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/288134