Remarks
Background Briefing by a Senior State Department Official
Ritz Carlton
Moscow, Russia
October 13, 2009


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There were two meetings, one restricted, about seven per side for about an hour and a half. Then there was an expanded for two hours. The meeting started off with a discussion of the bilateral – or binational presidential commission. They decided that they would create three new groups. They would break up the energy/environment group into two groups, also the foreign policy and counterterrorism groups would become separate, and then they’re going to have a separate group headed by the chiefs of general staff, Admiral Mullen and General Makarov.

Mike McFaul briefed on his first meeting of his civil society group with Vladislav Surkov, and they decided that it would be government-to-government, and – but they agreed after each meeting to debrief NGOs in their respective countries. So for the binational presidential commission, there was a total of 16. Nine have already met and there’s another four meetings scheduled for October and November.

The Secretary called the binational presidential commission a good framework for dialogue and progress. She said she wanted relations to be open and transparent. We recognize there will be areas of disagreement, but we also need to be sure that we are productive in areas of common interest.

QUESTION: You’re reading from stuff she actually said?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. And then we walked through a number of issues. On Iran, she said that she appreciated Russian leadership in getting Iran to cooperate in the P-5+1 meetings in Geneva. They agreed that the most important thing is to concentrate on Iranian follow-through to what they agreed to in principle in Geneva. And they spent some time talking about the proposal to ship the LEU to Russia, the ElBaradei proposal.

Then they talked about Armenia-Turkey and the need for both parties to ratify; it was important they took this step to sign this agreement, but again, we need follow-through. They talked about Nagorno-Karabakh. Lavrov debriefed on the meetings of the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Chisinau, and then President Medvedev met with them for about an hour and a half.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) this meeting?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, no, I’m sorry, this was after that – I think they came up here and Medvedev met with them.

QUESTION: Oh, he met with the Azerbaijanis, then Armenia?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And the Armenians, yeah.

QUESTION: Not with these guys, not with the Clinton delegation?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, no.

QUESTION: Okay.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Sorry, I’m talking about the Azerbaijan and Armenia – long conversation on missile defense. The Secretary said that we believe firmly that cooperation on missile defense is important and would be a good demonstration of our partnership. She underscored the need for high-level cooperation on missile defense, especially in cooperating on joint assessments of the threat. She invited Russian experts to Colorado Springs, where we have our command and control for missile defense. Lavrov talked about the work that could be done in the NATO-Russia Council on theater missile defense. There’s already been a meeting at the expert level.

I got to figure out where this goes from here – oh yeah, and then Ellen Tauscher kind of walked through the missile defense review. It was decided that the long-range threat from Iran was not maturing as fast as we had thought, but on the other hand, the threat of short and medium-range systems was getting significantly more important, and this is why we decided on this phase-adaptive approach. She stressed that this will be – this is important in terms of the indivisibility of NATO security, that this system will be able to protect all the allies, unlike the other system, and also, of course, protect deployed troops – U.S. deployed troops.

And they talked about START. There was some talk about offensive-defensive weapons, the interrelationship. We believe that the START agreement needs to focus on offensive weapons. And then the Secretary – then we invited in the bigger group, then there was a discussion of the NATO-Russia Council. The Secretary highlighted the NATO-Russia Council as an important forum for cooperation on Afghanistan, counterterrorism, counternarcotics, counter-piracy, and theater missile defense. She said it was also an important forum for political issues where we don’t always agree and cited Georgia as an example of that.

Lavrov said that the new Secretary General Rasmussen is also keen to promote the work of the NATO-Russia Council, and Lavrov also said that it was important that if Russia’s going to cooperate more on Afghanistan, that they should participate in the ISAF meetings, which he said also in the press conference, I think. The Secretary said there’s more that we could do in the NATO-Russia Council – increasing assistance to the Afghan National Army, counternarcotics training, development help, especially in – like in engineering. Hydropower is one thing she mentioned.

And they talked about North Korea. She reiterated our stance on bilateral talks, that we’re willing to have bilateral talks only with – if it’s in the context of the Six-Party Talks. You’ve heard me say that many times. She said it too. Lavrov agreed and said we support the bilateral talks, but only within the multilateral context.

They talked about the Middle East peace process. The Secretary talked about Mitchell’s efforts. Lavrov said that we also support immediate resumption of negotiation, direct talks with the name of establishing a Palestinian state, and reiterated his offer to host a conference here in Moscow as a follow-up to Annapolis. And then we got into the kind of nitty-gritty of some bilateral issues, cultural cooperation – you guys interested in that?

QUESTION: Are we still – are we --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Russian --

QUESTION: -- in the second meeting? Is that where we are?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Russian-American national park in Alaska in Chukotka?

QUESTION: No.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Not interested in that?

QUESTION: No, thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. Russian artist in the U.S. --

QUESTION: No.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- big exhibit – no?

QUESTION: Sorry.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Oh, man, come on. This is good stuff.

PARTICIPANT: You know he’s got half an hour to talk theater (inaudible).

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, I could do --

QUESTION: No, I don’t think – I’m not going to make it, no. This is (inaudible).

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: All right. Okay.

QUESTION: Okay.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Appreciate your attention.

QUESTION: So --

QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official], I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Wait, can I – I can do this on the side if you wanted.

QUESTION: We have a question, yeah. A State Department Official told us last night that the U.S. would ask both Medvedev and Lavrov to show signs of pressure – just trying to – a bit tired here.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We all are.

QUESTION: Yeah, so – including sanctions. He was – the Secretary was going to ask these things of Medvedev and Lavrov.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, I think there was a long discussion on Iran and there is recognition that we share a strategic goal. And the strategic goal is nobody wants a nuclear-armed Iran. Russia is even closer to Iran than we are.

QUESTION: Right.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And there’s also a recognition that this could spark a broader arms race in the region. And so we all agree that what we have to focus on is getting Iran to give up its nuclear program in a verifiable fashion.

Where the Russians have a different approach is – well, you heard what Lavrov said. They want to exhaust all the diplomatic avenues before we talk about sanctions. And they are concerned about getting the Iranians backed into a corner that may not be the most productive way to approach this. But the – we both want the same end result, and that’s a nonnuclear Iran.

QUESTION: Yeah, so the difference remains they don’t want to use the threat of sanctions right now if that means to pressure the Iranians on the talks and the follow-up talks?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, what they want to do is they want to concentrate on this – I think what – the way Lavrov put it was a cautiously optimistic result in Geneva, and that’s the agreement in principle to follow through on this transporting the LEU and the agreement to open up their Qom facilities. So that – it’s a matter of emphasis more than anything else.

QUESTION: Yeah.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: But as Medvedev said, after this is all done, sometimes sanctions just are inevitable.

QUESTION: So when you say they’re talking about the Iranians – getting the Iranians backed into a corner, that may not be the most productive way to approach this, are you saying backing the Iranians into a corner is not the most productive way? Or are you saying that the Russians’ philosophy may not be (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, no, the Iranians, that --

QUESTION: Backing them into a corner?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Backing them into a corner may not get us the result we want. Our position is, is that you have to have – you have to pursue both tracks. This is our position with North Korea too.

QUESTION: So, I mean --

QUESTION: But to go – just to ask Lach’s question again, I mean, did we or did we not seek anything tangible at this meeting in terms --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: In terms of sanctions?

QUESTION: In terms of specific – let me go back to the exact language – specific additional measures that the Russians might be willing to support us in, because that’s what a State Department Official alluded to last night on the airplane.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Well, he said – he said it, that we’d be sort of looking for specific additional measures that the Russians could join we and our allies in toward Iran --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- which sounded to me like he was saying they wanted to feel out the Russians on sanctions and --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. I think what the Secretary – what she was emphasizing is that we need to do this in a parallel way or in a simultaneous way. We need to make sure they follow through on the Geneva agreements, but at the same time, we need to be prepared to – we need to prepare the track of pressure. I mean, there’s cajolement and there’s pressure.

QUESTION: Which the Russians are not ready to do, clearly.

QUESTION: They’re not buying it.

QUESTION: They’re not ready to prepare that pressure.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, I – they’re – they are not ready – they weren’t ready in this context to talk about --

QUESTION: But they said they won’t be ready.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- in a broader --

QUESTION: As long as there’s a negotiation underway, they’re not going to be ready to discuss this.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Hold on. They weren’t ready in this context to what?

QUESTION: To talk specifically about what specific steps we could take.

QUESTION: So – just so – one more on – did she say let’s talk – I don’t know, this thing and then you guys could join in (inaudible) that thing? Let’s talk – was it something like that? Or was it her saying, you know, we really should have a two-track, we really should crank up some – like, you know, threats and sanctions and (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There was agreement that in this short window, we need to talk about follow-through on Geneva. But she was quite firm that at the same time, we have to pursue the – we have to prepare to pursue the track of pressure if diplomacy fails, that the clock is ticking. We don’t have time to – I mean, we have to prepare as we – even as we talk.

QUESTION: So it’s --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: This is a narrow window that’s closing quickly.

QUESTION: Okay. But she didn’t offer any specific, you know, about the way (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I think what Lavrov said is that this is a matter – they feel strongly this is a matter that has to be discussed within the context of the UN Security Council, that that’s the proper venue for this kind of discussion.

QUESTION: So she tried to broach it and that’s the response she got?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, no. I mean, I don’t think we were prepared to get into a real detailed discussion of what kind of specific sanctions we were going to pursue.

QUESTION: But just to be clear, though --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: -- you said that Lavrov said they weren’t ready in this context to talk specifically about what steps they would be willing to take. But that implies that it wasn’t brought-up steps that they – that she wanted them to take.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: She brought up the need to pursue a dual track – engagement and pressure.

QUESTION: At the same time, and he basically said, “Phhhlt.”*

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, he basically said that the important thing now is to --

QUESTION: No, he said no. He said no. (Laughter.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The important thing is to focus on the follow-through in Geneva, and we all recognize --

QUESTION: No, (inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- that if that fails, then we’ve got to look at the other track.

QUESTION: In fact, this is exactly the same thing that happened (inaudible).

QUESTION: Does that mean that the two of them, Medvedev and Lavrov, are cautious because Putin, who everybody believes is the (inaudible) of the throne is --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well --

QUESTION: You won’t get into speculation about the inner workings of the Russian Government?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, let’s see. Yeah, let’s --

QUESTION: Try to learn Matt’s --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: (Laughter.) Let’s see what comes out of the Medvedev meeting.

(Break.)

QUESTION: They were not --

QUESTION: So the Russian (inaudible)?

QUESTION: Just one more thing – just one follow-up. They were not ready to – they were not ready to discuss it in this context?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They would prefer to discuss it in the UN Security Council context.

QUESTION: So (inaudible)?

QUESTION: He said they weren’t ready (inaudible). He said they were not ready in this context to talk so quickly about (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, if you can add that they – for the UN Security Council (inaudible).

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: So what is the – I think is that you guys believe that talking about the possibility of sanctions or the fact that the Russians and the Chinese would consider – the Russians would even consider sanctions would help the carrot? Talking about the stick helps the carrot – helps (inaudible), right, if I apply more pressure --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, I --

QUESTION: It creates the – it sends a signal to the Iranians that --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s time to deal here, you only have a certain amount of time, yeah.

QUESTION: And you would have preferred, you would have liked for him – I mean, the fact --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Again --

QUESTION: Look, his comment was actually – the English translation, as you probably noticed, was horrendous.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Actually, no, because I didn’t have the earpiece.

QUESTION: Oh, well the woman who was translating --

QUESTION: It was really bad.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Was it really bad? I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Well, listen to this and tell me what you – this is the quote that Lavrov said. After he swept* through the whole thing, he added this: “At the current stage, all forces should be thrown at supporting the negotiating process. Threats, sanctions, and threats of pressure in the current situation, we are convinced, would be counterproductive.” Okay? Do you remember that line?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I do remember that line.

QUESTION: Okay. Is that something that the – I mean, what does that do to your – what does that do to you guys?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think – well, yeah. I mean, this is what we expected to hear. This is what we hear constantly from the Russians.

QUESTION: Right.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: What we used to hear as well is that you have to pursue engagement, so – okay, so we’re pursuing engagement and – but the bottom line is – here is that we agree that --

QUESTION: Right.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- a nuclear-armed Iran would be a very bad thing.

QUESTION: Yes, but you’ve agreed on that for five years.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, so – but – I know, but now we have a new approach, we have a glimmer of cautious optimism, as Lavrov put it, and we need to make sure that they follow through.

QUESTION: Yes, but what we were told – well, I’ve been told several times – is that you would like the Russians to come out with some kind of sign, public sign, that they would be willing to actually consider the sanctions.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, they have.

QUESTION: And then they’ve walked it back.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Oh, I don’t think that – I mean, Lavrov repeated it again today.

QUESTION: But he walked it back.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: He – I don’t think he walked it back. He said we have to pursue the diplomacy to the end, and then we can --

QUESTION: Well, when does that – when does that end?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well --

QUESTION: See, that’s – anyway, I don’t know. (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We think it ends very soon.

QUESTION: There’s a clear – there’s a clear difference in tactics between the U.S. and Russia.

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: They don’t – the U.S. wants to pressure --

QUESTION: Right, yes.

QUESTION: -- negotiations backed up by a threat of punishment and the Russians don’t.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, the difference --

QUESTION: But I mean, that --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The difference is we are prepared to pursue the path of engagement where we (inaudible) for.

QUESTION: And the Russians are saying at the end of the line --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right.

QUESTION: -- that sanctions may be inevitable --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right.

QUESTION: -- which was a step forward.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And they’ve signed on to sanctions before. They’ve signed on sanctions with Iran, they’ve signed on --

QUESTION: Pretty robust (inaudible) --

QUESTION: Does that mean --

QUESTION: -- (inaudible) North Korea?

QUESTION: No, no, no, no.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: All right. Okay. See you guys.

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PRN: 2009/T14-19