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On-the-Record Press Call by U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison and Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman on the President's Visit to the NATO Summit and Helsinki, Finland

July 05, 2018

Via Teleconference


11:04 A.M. EDT

MR. PALLADINO: Thank you, Rita. And thank you to everyone for joining today.

Today we are lucky to have two briefers on the call. And for your situational awareness, our briefers are United States Ambassador to the United States Mission to NATO, Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison, as well as United States Ambassador to Russia, Ambassador Jon Huntsman.

Our call will proceed as follows: Ambassador Hutchison will speak on the record to identify major themes for the NATO summit, as well as the schedule for the NATO summit. She will then be followed by Ambassador Huntsman, who will speak on the record about major themes for the President's bilateral meeting in Helsinki, Finland, as well as the schedule.

At the conclusion of Ambassador Hutchison and Huntsman's opening remarks and running through the schedule, we will open it up to questions and answers.

This call will be -- the contents of this call will be embargoed until the conclusion of the call. With that, I would like to turn it over to Ambassador Hutchison. Thank you again, Ambassador Hutchison, for joining us.

AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: Absolutely. Thank you very much. And thank you for giving us this opportunity to talk about the Brussels summit that we are very much looking forward to.

And the major thing, the major deliverable, the major overall theme of this summit is going to be NATO's strength and unity. I want to emphasize here that everyone in our alliance has the same goal, and that is a strong deterrent; an alliance that is unified that can face any threats that any 1 of our 29 members might face.

And this year, we have gone through many of the areas that will be ratified in our declaration that will deliver the strength that we are projecting for our major threats. I would say our major areas of deterrence would be Russia and the malign activities of Russia, the efforts of Russia to divide our democratic nation, INF Treaty violations. All of those things are now being addressed by NATO in a strengthened deterrence and defense.

The President will arrive here on July 11th -- actually, the evening of July 10th. The first meetings will be a bilateral meeting with Secretary General Stoltenberg, along with the President and the Secretaries of Defense and State and the National Security Advisor. They will touch base and talk about what we're going to be doing. Then the President will meet with the U.S. mission and staff and families. He's going to have a meet and greet.

We have three missions in Brussels: our EU Mission, our mission -- our bilat with Belgium, and then, of course, our NATO. So everyone is very much looking forward to that.

Then they will be coming over to the NATO headquarters for an opening ceremony. There will be a meeting of all the heads of state. Some ceremony there that will talk about the defense and deterrence issues, and particularly strengthening our efforts in our southern membership area.

That night, there will be a working dinner with the heads of state, separate dinners with the secretaries and ministers of defense and the ministers of state and our Secretary of State. All of those will be having different meetings with their own group for dinner.

And then on Wednesday, July 12, there will be another heads of state meeting that will be with the heads of state of Georgia and Ukraine, and there will be a meeting of the Afghan partners with us in the mission to bring peace to Afghanistan. And then the President leaves and goes to his next place.

So that would be his schedule. What we are looking for to deliver at the NATO summit is a -- of course, an emphasis on burden-sharing, at which it will be shown that 16 of our allies are on track to make the 2-percent pledge that was made by all of our allies together at Wales. And then also looking for the increases that have been made since 2014 and last year. We will talk about the biggest increase in defense spending by our allies since the Cold War. Every one of our allies -- 100 percent -- are increasing defense spending. And so that is something that we will talk about in an achievement, but also that we need to do more.

And I want to emphasize that the 2 percent that everyone pledged to make the effort to attain is not just a number that was pulled out of the air. We all have to remember that we are now facing major threats by Russia, as I have mentioned. Most certainly, we have a rising China. And we have counterterrorism that is an emphasis that the President has asked NATO to make a priority, and which, this year, we are doing.

And all of these things require that we have an overall capability that can only be achieved if all of us collectively put in at least 2 percent in the purchase of capabilities. It's airplanes; it's tanks; it's submarines; it's technology. All of those things that will provide the security umbrella that today's NATO is.

In addition, we have a readiness initiative that will be part of the deliverables at the summit that will -- we call it the "30 times 4". That's 30 battalions, 30 air squadrons, 30 ships in 30 days to get to any of our countries that would need a reinforcement.

NATO's command structure reform will also be approved at the summit. The new command structure was put together by a Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, the American General Curtis Scaparrotti, and has been well received and will be unanimously approved at the summit. And it will include a new American headquarters and a new German headquarters that will address the issue of more maritime and North Atlantic strengthening.

And also, the German one will be for the military mobility that is so essential for our troops to be able to get to any country that would need that reinforcement. Right now, we have bureaucratic hurdles to get from one country to another through Europe, and we want to make sure that we have a seamless capability to get where it would needed for us to reinforce.

We will, at the summit, approve counter hybrid support teams. We know that hybrid warfare is a relatively new form of warfare, but it is the malign influence that we see in the social media that is being put out seeking to divide our alliance. And so now we have support teams that will be helpful in strengthening all of our allies to counter hybrid warfare and try to make sure that we have the capability to do that.

A new strategy in Afghanistan of asking our allies and partners, of which there are 41, to extend the funding for the security forces and to have a conditions-based operation that will provide that we will stay the course in Afghanistan and help them with training and advising to bring peace and stability to that country.

The reason that that is so important, of course, is the terrorist network that has grown in Afghanistan has been exported to many of our countries, as we have seen starting with 9/11 in America but also European terrorist attacks as well.

So counterterrorism was a major point that President Trump asked NATO to make a priority, and the new mission in Afghanistan -- not the new mission, but the expansion of the mission in Afghanistan has been very much supported by our alliance and they are increasing the numbers of troops and the funding of the troops and they are sharing the burden for trying to stabilize that area so that we will stop the terrorism from being exported.

The new Iraq training mission will likely be adopted by these heads of state as well, and it is also to advise and train Iraq. After the defeat of ISIS is absolutely finished, we want to help -- and it is a NATO mission that will be adopted -- help the police and the armed services in Iraq to stabilize the country, including all of the factions in Iraq in their new -- hopefully when the government is formed after their recent election.

So that area will be another focus: fighting terrorism. And we also will stress the open door that NATO has had for new members and in the open door deliverable in this summit, we will allow the accession negotiation with what has been the former of Macedonia -- the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, excuse me -- to start accession as soon as everything is settled with Macedonia and Greece regarding the name that will be Northern Macedonia.

And also we will support Georgia and Ukraine's membership aspirations and sovereignty as another of the summit deliverables.

So I think you see that this is a very substantive and meaty summit. I think it is going to be one of the most productive that we have ever had. And I think that NATO is doing many of the things that the President has asked them to and are certainly (inaudible) which is a major priority to make us more fit for purpose. And that's our goal, it's our common goal, and one that everyone here is absolutely committed (inaudible).

MR. PALLADINO: Thank you very much, Ambassador Hutchison. This is Robert Palladino back again.

So that bring us up to Thursday, July 12th. In the early afternoon on Thursday, July 12th, the President will depart for the United Kingdom.

For the media's planning purposes only, today's briefing will not discuss the details of the President's trip to the United Kingdom, and the White House is in the process of organizing a separate briefing on that subject which will be held soon.

I would now like to pass the call over to U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman. Thank you, Ambassador Huntsman.

AMBASSADOR HUNTSMAN: Thank you, Robert. It's nice to be with you, and I'd like to thank Ambassador Hutchison for her great service in Brussels.

Let me just share a couple of thoughts with you and specifics on the schedule and then we can go in whatever direction, Robert, you would like. Let me just say that President Trump and President Putin will meet on July 16th in Helsinki to discuss U.S.-Russia relations and a range of national security issues.

The President is pursuing this meeting in the interest of America's national security to determine whether Russia is willing to make progress in our bilateral relationship. The President hopes that a meeting can help reduce tensions and lead to constructive engagement that improves peace and security around the world because you can't solve problems if you're not talking about them.

The President believes a better relationship with Russia would be good for both America and Russia, but the ball really is in Russia's court, and the President will continue to hold Russia accountable for its malign activities, some of which you just heard about directly from Ambassador Hutchison.

The President's priority is to protect the American people and American interests, including those of our allies and partners. We're entering with our eyes wide open, but peace is always worth the effort.

Turning to the schedule: On Sunday, July 15th, the President will arrive in Helsinki, Finland. On that Sunday evening of July 15th -- in the evening we are working to set up a meet-and-greet with the staff and families who work at the U.S. embassy in Helsinki.

On Monday, July 16th -- on Monday morning, the President will participate in a bilateral meeting with President Sauli Niinistö of Finland. In the early afternoon, the President will then be greeted by President Niinistö of Finland at the Presidential Palace. President Trump then will participate in a one-on-one bilateral meeting with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, and then an expanded bilateral meeting will follow that. And then a working lunch with President Putin. The President will then depart for the United States in the evening of Monday, July 16th.

Let me just say about Finland, they are a close NATO partner. Finland, as many of you know, has a long tradition of exercising leadership in international affairs, having hosted many such meetings between U.S. and Russian officials. We want to thank Finland for being such a gracious host for the President's meeting with President Putin. We also, at this point, this year in particular, we want to thank Finland for their leadership on the Arctic Council, which they happen to chair this year. And I suspect some of those issues may find their way into the conversation that both President Niinistö and President Trump will have.

Robert, thank you and we'll turn it back to you.

MR. PALLADINO: Thank you, Ambassador Huntsman.

Rita, thank you for beginning questions and answers.

Q: Hello, this is Toby Capion, from EWTN News Nightly. Question is just regarding Russia when it comes to this carrot-and-stick approach. Again, you say peace is worth it, but really how do you go about listing all of their (inaudible) and the things they're doing to attack us, and yet still try to, you know, give them a handshake and improve relations? How do you strike that balance?

AMBASSADOR HUNTSMAN: Well, I think first of all, you need to go in with eyes wide open. And you need to make sure that we're willing, on our side, to hold Russia responsible for the many activities that they are responsible for, whether that is election meddling; malign activities throughout Europe, including the Balkans, UK and Brexit, France, and Italy, just to mention a few; and to hold them responsible for this new form of warfare -- hybrid warfare that we have seen most recently.

But in the end, I think it's fair to say that, since the end of the Cold War, each President has tried a reset or a redo of the U.S.-Russia relationship. And in each case, it has led to a boom and a bust cycle. And inevitably, that has left the relationship worse off and with deep disappointments.

So given the challenges and the difficulties in accepting where we need to find ourselves in this relationship, one of the most important things for us to do is to conclude that we need a sober assessment of the root causes of our problems. So what are the underlying causes of past crises? And how do we best address them?

So a dialogue on the true state of the relationship is what is needed, and really something that would be considered a needed deliverable for this bilateral meeting. So ultimately, we put the issues on the table, we recognize through frank dialogue where we are and what the expectations are going forward on the key issues that we're working on in our bilateral relationship. Some of them might be around strategic stability and arms control. Some of them will inevitably be around Ukraine. And certainly, Syria will enter the picture as a very important area of focus and dialogue.

And election meddling, which has been brought up by those of us here on the ground in Moscow repeatedly, as long as I've been here, certainly, and that's going on a year. And certainly, by a group of seven senators who were just here -- the largest congressional delegation we've had in recent memory, maybe even since the creation of the Russian Republic in the early '90s. And in each of those meetings that we had just yesterday with the Duma and with the Federation Council of Russia, election meddling was stressed in ways that have never been discussed before.

You hear it a lot on the talk shows; you read about election meddling in popular punditry. But the fact of the matter is that we have not had the kind of conversations -- direct conversations, across-the-table conversations -- about things like election meddling and malign activity -- that really do need to take place.

And again, you can't solve problems if you're not willing to talk about them.

Q: Hi, there. This is Jeremy Diamond from CNN. Thanks very much for doing this. Two questions. First of all, will the President make explicitly clear that the U.S. military presence in Europe, like in Germany, for example, is on the line if those countries don't boost their defense spending?

And secondly, with regards to the meeting with Vladimir Putin, the President plans to meet with Putin one on one. Could you explain why that is the right approach and what the United States gains from having President Trump in a room alone with Vladimir Putin? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: I'll let Ambassador Huntsman take the second point. But I think on the first one, I think that it's very important that we do have the talk among us. And I would add that, also, it's very important that our military be able to talk to each other to deconflict in areas (inaudible).

Also, I think it's very important that we have the ability to talk about Afghanistan and the issues there. So I think all of the things that my colleague has said are very important. And I think what the President has done is to say that we want to assure that we have the capability to pick up the phone and talk to any adversary that might deconflict a situation that gets into something much more serious.

Q: Hi there. It's Jill Colvin with the Associated Press. Thanks very much for doing this call. I just wanted to follow up on Jeremy's question there on -- because I don't believe that it was completely answered. Will the President be making clear that U.S. military presence, including in Germany, is something on the line, something that he is willing to consider changing?

And also, will there be any opportunities for press conferences on the trip and we should be expecting to able to see the President? What kind of access will we have? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: I'm sorry, I should have been more -- I should have addressed the German issue. There is nothing being said at all about the troop alignment in Germany or anything that would change the 32,000-troop force that we have in Germany.

It's very important that that be the capability to base and train, which we do there, and be able to deploy our troops in a safe way, which Germany is willing to help us do with this new hub that I mentioned earlier to be able to get our troops from there and that location to any of the places that might be in harm's way. And there -- I have heard nothing different about that and certainly, I think, that would have -- I've heard nothing on that (inaudible).

On the other issue, I'll let Ambassador Huntsman take that one because I don't --

MR. PALLADINO: On the second question -- this is Robert Palladino jumping backwards on information regarding press availabilities and press access and questions in that regard.

That information will be provided by the White House as we -- at it becomes available. So that's something that will be provided from the White House. Thank you.

Rita, next question please.

Q: Hi, this is Jeff Mason from Reuters. First of all, I'm not sure that Ambassador Huntsman got a chance to answer Jeremey's question, so I would just ask that he get back to that one.

And secondly, my question is, is the President open -- during his discussions with President Putin -- to extending the New START treaty and will he raise Russia's INF Treaty violations with President Putin and discuss that with him.

And along those same lines, if I could just follow up on some of the things that you said in your opening statement -- your words about Russia's malign activities are much harsher than we've heard from President Trump. Does he share your perspective about that and will he use the same type of language in his discussions with President Putin?

AMBASSADOR HUNTSMAN: Well -- and thank you to my friend from Reuters. First of all, the President will drive the discussion on malign activity and election meddling. He knows the facts and the details and he's discussed it. We all talk about it a little differently, but the President has talked about it in his own way.

Second, let me just say that what's important with respect to the dialogue, I know the question earlier was the one-on-one format, and I harken back to some summits that I've done before, all the way back to Ronald Reagan where I helped to prepare Reagan's first trip to China and Barack Obama's trip to China in 2009. And what is important in all these cases is dialogue. And this can take many forms. But what is important here is that we start a discussion.

We've had discussions on the margins of meetings -- Hamburg, G20, the APEC meeting in Da Nang, Vietnam, but this really is the first opportunity for a sit-down and to begin that very important dialogue, much the way we saw President Reagan do it with Mikhail Gorbachev, or Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev.

The President has determined that now is the time for direct communication between himself and President Putin, and that it is in the interest of the United States, in the interest of Russia, in the interest of peace and security around the world. And that's the way he's proceeding.

On the issue of strategic stability, I think you can draw from President Trump's comments coming out of Singapore that arms control and strategic stability are of utmost importance to him.

I am guessing that this whole category of strategic stability, which is kind of a fancy bundling of various arms control features, will be prominent on the agenda. And part of that will be a discussion on Russia's violations of the INF Treaty, which is a 30-year-old treaty -- probably the most successful treaty in this history of arms control, which goes back to 1987. It was responsible for taking intermediate-range nuclear forces out of Europe, Pershings out of Western Europe, SS-20s and others out of Eastern Europe and Russia. And there is evidence that Russia is in violation of the INF Treaty, and we're holding them responsible for addressing that.

That will then play into what likely would be a discussion on New START because we have passed a very important milestone last February 5th where both the United States and Russia were to meet the internal goals of no more than 1,550 deployed strategic warheads. And both met that target, and both have done the accounting to meet that.

Clearly, there will be a discussion about New START compliance. Russia has some questions about our B-52H bombers and our conversions from nuclear to conventional. As they do some of our longitudes that house the Trident II submarines on our SSBN boomer submarines. And that will enter into the conversation, I have no doubt.

So this very large basket of strategic stability will likely include a discussion of INF and New START. And probably, given that the February 2021 deadline is around the corner, we will have to make a decision on whether or not there be a re-upping for five years, as is written into the agreement -- whether the New START agreement will actually be extended by another five years. My guess is that will be part of the discussion as well.

But I don't want to get ahead of the possible summit conversations, so I'll leave it at that.

MR. PALLADINO: Thank you. Rita, this is our last call, Rita. Please.

Q: Thank you. Hi, this is Ayesha Rascoe with Reuter -- not with Reuters, sorry -- with NPR. I wanted to ask about -- you talk about Russia, and now is the time for dialogue. You just mentioned that there may be talk about START. But is there anything in particular that the U.S. is expecting to get from Russia with this meeting? Are you expecting some type of agreement from them when it comes to things like election meddling or on Ukraine or all these issues you laid out? Are you expecting them to make concrete commitments at this agreement, or is this more of a discussion?

And also going back to the NATO summit, is there only going to be one bilateral with Stoltenberg or are there going to be any more bilats with other leaders at --

AMBASSADOR HUNTSMAN: Yes, thank you for that question. I'll give a couple of thoughts, and then I'll let my colleague drive it home.

You know, I think the fact that we're having a summit at this level, at this time in history, is a deliverable in itself. I don't exclude that there will be some concrete agreement that will be announced coming out on the other end of the summit. There are a lot of issues to be discussed that have been accumulated, not only during the time that President Trump has been in office, but certainly well before that as well.

So the summit in and of itself is an important deliverable. And let me just say that a change in atmosphere can change a whole lot else. And I would just point to the summit with Kim Jong Un, which has already shown the possibility for reduced tension on the Korean Peninsula and certainly throughout Northeast Asia.

And if you can imagine of what reduced tension could do in the case of U.S.-Russia and Europe-Russia, it would be on a much bigger scale. So I wouldn't underplay at all the importance of actually sitting down for the first time in a meeting-summit environment and discussing the issues that really matter most.

I saw it myself sitting here in Moscow with the largest delegation of U.S. Senators to visit this country in many, many years. The first conversations really that have been -- that have taken place on election meddling, on Ukraine, on Syria. Again, these issues happen through diplomatic channels, but there hasn't been a full airing of the issues in our bilateral relationship that really matter most to global stability. And that will all be possible during this meeting format.

AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: Oh, and then on my side, the bilateral opportunities with the President are pretty few because the formal meetings are taking up most of his time, but that doesn't mean that he won't have some. They have not been decided for sure, yet. He might have some that -- his schedule is pretty packed, so I think that will have to be determined as we go forward.

MR. PALLADINO: Thank you. The White House Press Office will furnish that information as soon as it does become available.

In conclusion, I just want to thank Ambassador Hutchison and Ambassador Huntsman for both joining us today to take part in this call. And I want to thank everyone else who is on the line today for tuning in as well.

Thank you again for everyone participating. The embargo is lifted. Goodbye.

Donald J. Trump, On-the-Record Press Call by U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison and Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman on the President's Visit to the NATO Summit and Helsinki, Finland Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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