Remarks by Senior Administration Officials in a Conference Call on the Vice President's Trip to Morocco, Ukraine and Turkey
12:15 P.M. EST
MR. SPECTOR: Hey, everyone. Thanks for joining us on today's background call to preview the Vice President and Dr. Biden's trip to Morocco, Ukraine and Turkey. We are joined by senior administration officials who can go through the schedule and answer some questions at the end. So with that, I'm going to turn it over to a senior administration official.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, Stephen. And thanks, everybody, for joining the call. As Stephen mentioned, Dr. Biden will be accompanying the Vice President on all three stops of the trip -- Morocco, Ukraine and Turkey. More information about her itinerary and agenda will be released later today, so I'm really going to focus on the Vice President's agenda for the trip.
We leave tonight. We arrive tomorrow in Morocco. The Vice President will have an opportunity to meet with the king, His Majesty King Mohammed VI. And then the following day, which will be the morning of the 20th, the Vice President will deliver the keynote address at the fifth Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Marrakesh.
The Vice President and His Majesty the King will discuss the range of issues in the strategic partnership between the United States and Morocco. Morocco is a very important partner in the anti-ISIL coalition. And the Vice President will discuss with the King the ongoing mission of the coalition in Iraq and Syria.
The Vice President will also be eager to hear the King's thoughts on the broader efforts to counter violent extremism, an area where Morocco has a lot of experience.
The Vice President will also underscore U.S. support for Morocco's efforts to achieve progress and stability through political and economic reform. And one of the interesting things about Morocco is since the beginning of the Arab Spring, they've really been kind of at the leading edge of getting out in front of regional unrest through political reform efforts.
The Vice President, as I said, will then deliver the keynote address at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Marrakesh on the 20th. This is the fifth Global Entrepreneurship Summit since President Obama first announced the program in his Cairo speech in 2009. It's the Vice President's second summit. His first one was in Istanbul in 2011. We feel that at a time when there's a lot of attention that's rightly focused on terrorists that America and over 60 partners are fighting in Iraq and Syria, this speech is really an opportunity to remind the region and the world of some of the values that America stands for, above all the political and economic openness that fuel our -- fuel innovation. I think we see this -- part of our articulating our affirmative agenda in this part of the world even as the military campaign against ISIL continues.
On the evening of the 20th, the Vice President will depart Morocco and fly to Kyiv, Ukraine. And then the following day, the 21st, he'll have an opportunity to have extensive conversations with President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk. And he will also chair a roundtable on anti-corruption and rule of law reforms.
In his meetings with Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk, the Vice President will convey his congratulations for Ukraine's successful democratic elections on October 26th, in spite of all the challenges that are facing the country, particularly the separatist challenge in the east.
With the Prime Minister and the President, the Vice President will also note the need to quickly move ahead with forming a new government to get on with the business of implementing important reforms. The Vice President will discuss, I'm sure at length, concerns that all of us have regarding Russia's ongoing violations of the September 5th Minsk agreement with Ukraine. As I'm sure you all know, Russia is not taking -- has not taken meaningful steps to implement its obligations under Minsk, such as removing all of its troops, stopping the flow of mercenaries, weapons and equipment across the border and allowing an international observer mission to monitor the international border between Russia and Ukraine.
Finally, the anti-corruption roundtable that the Vice President will chair will be an opportunity to discuss the challenges of fighting corruption in Ukraine with a number of new members in the Rada, which is their parliament, and ways that we can help Ukraine build upon the laws that they passed in the previous Rada -- combat corruption.
That evening, we'll fly to Istanbul and the first thing on the Vice President's agenda is a working dinner with Prime Minister Davuto?lu. The following day, which is the 22nd, he'll address an economic and energy summit hosted by the Atlantic Council. And then he will meet with President Erdo?an for an extended meeting. And then finally, he'll meet with a group funded by the National Democratic Institute, called the Checks and Balances Network.
And then on Sunday, the 23rd, the Vice President will meet with the Ecumenical Patriarch, His All Holiness Bartholomew in Istanbul, and then we will come home.
The agenda for the Vice President's discussions with Prime Minister Davuto?lu and President Erdo?an will include our cooperation in fighting ISIL in Syria and Iraq; coping with the humanitarian crisis caused by the conflicts on the other side of Turkey's southern border; countering the threat posed by foreign fighters; promoting the Cyprus settlement process and various other regional issues.
At the Atlantic Council Economic and Energy Summit, the Vice President will speak about some of the challenges to our strategic vision of a Europe that's whole, free and at peace -- including security, political, economic -- and in this context, energy security -- challenges.
With the group of nongovernmental leaders, the Vice President will speak -- that's the Checks and Balances event, the Vice President will speak about how to sustain institutional and political reform that promotes the separation of powers among government institutions.
And then finally, the meeting with the Ecumenical Patriarch is a private call to discuss issues of religious freedom and interfaith dialogue. So I think it's a pretty jam-packed trip. We're really looking forward to it. And with that, why don't we open it up to you all for questions?
Q: Two quick questions. One is typically we're told at the beginning of these things who our senior officials are, even if we're not recording it or putting it in the transcript. That's just a good courtesy. So I hope we can do that.
Secondly, I wonder if you can talk a little bit about where you all think the Europeans are with regard to actual further action on -- against Russia with regard to Ukraine. Is there any actual movement toward this long-stated "Russia will pay if they don't do this kind of stuff" language that we hear again and again? Or are we pretty much in a holding pattern with the level of sanctions we've got right now?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As it relates to the European sanctions, I think you probably saw the news today that the Europeans look like they're moving forward on some designations for a number of separatist leaders. We continue to have conversations with them on the sanctions front. I think -- it's our judgment that the sanctions we've already imposed collectively, the United States, Europe and others on Russia are having a pretty significant impact on the Russian economy. And we've made it clear to the Russians that those sanctions are going to stay on until there's full compliance with the Minsk agreement, which at the moment we feel like there's terrible noncompliance. But maybe I'll hand it over to my colleague, senior official number two, to give you a little bit more color.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would say that the question of an intensification of the sanctions is under discussion at this point. When the President was in Australia over the weekend, he met on the margins of the G20 with the leaders of the European Union that were present -- both member states and representatives of the EU -- and began a conversation about next steps to increase the pressure on Russia, as well as next steps to provide additional financial support to Ukraine.
And we see both of these initiatives as important. One because Russia has not been complying with the Minsk agreement, and as a consequence we're looking at the need for additional steps. And two, the situation in Ukraine economically is relatively fragile. And as a consequence, we're working with our European partners and with the IMF to look at what the needs may be moving forward.
Q: Thank you, gentlemen, for doing the call. My question obviously is also about Ukraine. Will you try to prevail upon the Ukrainian leaders -- the President and the Prime Minister -- the need to stick to the peaceful solutions of the crisis? Because I think you have made it clear that you want Russia to push who you call rebels, the insurgents in the east to stop fighting. But if the government does not stop fighting, the fighting will not stop. So are you prepared to pressure the Ukrainian government to stop the fighting in the east?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you for that. Look, we believe that there should be a peaceful solution to the conflict. We don't think there's a military solution to the conflict. But honestly, it looks like the Russians and the separatists are trying to impose a military solution to the conflict.
In recent weeks, we've seen reports of significant transfers of heavy weapons from the Russian side of the border to separatists. We've seen the separatists engage in offensives against the airport in Donetsk. And I think we're all very concerned that in the aftermath of the illegitimate elections that happened in separatist-controlled territory recently that things in the east are intensifying. So it's our view that there's no military solution, but that applies to both sides. And at the moment the biggest challenge is -- the separatists and the Russians are really kind of pushing the boundaries. So the Vice President will be in Kyiv and will reaffirm our support for the Minsk agreement and the need for all parties to comply with it, but also stand firm on Ukraine's right to defend itself.
Q: I have a couple questions regarding Biden's trip into Turkey. And the first, (inaudible) around the coalition more or less, but the first thing I wanted to ask was about Incirlik, how much of an issue that was going to be; and whether or not the Vice President is going to push for increased assets there -- or not assets but use of the facility; and whether or not the no-fly zone is going to be on the list of his discussion points. And lastly, how much of this trip is going to be focused on reconciling relations between the Vice President and Erdo?an?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me take actually those questions in reverse order. It's our view that there's no need for reconciliation. The relationship between the Vice President and Erdo?an is in a good place; they have a very close relationship, a good professional relationship. They interact all of the time. They talk on the phone. The Vice President met with Erdo?an up in New York during the U.N. General Assembly meeting. So there's nothing to reconcile. The relationship is in a good place.
As it relates to the coalition, Turkey is already an active member in the anti-ISIL coalition. They do provide some base access now. They have agreed to host one of the facilities, the training facilities for the training program for the moderate Syrian opposition. And they've also taken steps to crack down on oil smuggling and the flow of foreign fighters. So undoubtedly we -- the Vice President and Prime Minister Davuto?lu and President Erdo?an will all discuss ways in which the United States and Turkey deepen their cooperation on ISIL. But I think we feel like cooperation is good at the moment. And it's not -- look, it's our view that when it comes to combating ISIL and stabilizing the situation in Iraq, and standing up the moderate opposition in Syria, these are all areas in which we and the Turks have a considerable overlap in our strategic view. So I think we're in a good place, and I expect those to be fruitful discussions.
Q: As a follow-up question to actually the previous one. You were asked about the no-fly zone and the position of the U.S. administration on this. You know that the Turkish government raised several times the issue (inaudible) Ankara is asking to establish a no-fly zone or safe zone northern Syria. So what is your position on this? What will be the Vice President saying to President Erdo?an and Prime Minister Davuto?lu on this?
And secondly, the Cyprus issue will be on the table probably because in Harvard the Vice President talked that he will be discussing Cyprus with the Prime Minister in his next visit to Istanbul, to Turkey. But negotiations were (inaudible) because of the (inaudible) Mediterranean Sea. So can you please elaborate on this too? What will be the position of the Vice President, how he will encourage the Turkish government to pursue this negotiation? So a few details will be great, thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So if I understood you right, we have a no-fly zone question and then a question about the position on Cyprus.
On the no-fly zone issue, and I apologize for not answering that question earlier, as well, look, we're in constant discussion with our Turkish partners about the full range of possible ways that Turkey can contribute to the anti-ISIL coalition. As you know, the Turkish government has been raising the concept of a no-fly zone and associated buffer zones for a long time now. This is not a new idea. We continue to have conversations with Turkey about how best to bolster security in the region, including along the Turkey-Syria border to take the fight to ISIL. But at the moment, we're not considering a no-fly zone or a buffer zone.
As it relates to Cyprus, I think that our major position will be the importance of getting the peace process back on track and making sure that all the actors who are involved avoid steps that are provocative so that we can get the peace process back on track.
I don't know if senior administration official number two wants to add anything?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would just add that I think at the macro level Turkish interest and American interests in Iraq and Syria are quite similar, overlapping as I think the word that my colleague (inaudible) and they involve degrading ISIL. They involve ultimately getting to a point where Assad leaves power.
And as a consequence, we're engaging with the Turks in an ongoing strategic dialogue, and the Vice President will be pushing this forward, where we are not really talking about our ends, but really means -- different ways of achieving our common end. And in that respect, the conversation about our strategy in Syria and Iraq is one in which we're sounding each other out and discussing options moving forward.
Q: Can I just follow up on the no-fly zone question? The Turkish Foreign Minister again calling today for a no-fly zone, so can we take that now that Vice President Biden will be communicating directly that the no-fly zone and the buffer zone is not on the table now?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Look, I don't think that anybody has taken anything off the table as it relates to the Turks. But what I said before stands, which is we've had repeated conversations at all levels on the no-fly zone and buffer zone concept. As the concept gets refined, I imagine those conversations will continue.
But what I said before, stands -- which is at the moment, we are not contemplating putting in place a no-fly zone. But we continue to have conversations with them.
MR. SPECTOR: Great. And at that point, I think we'll wrap up the call. We appreciate everyone's time and we look forward to hearing from you soon. Thanks.
END 12:35 P.M. EST
Barack Obama, Remarks by Senior Administration Officials in a Conference Call on the Vice President's Trip to Morocco, Ukraine and Turkey Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/308624