Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Thanks, it’s good to see everyone. I will be brief, and we can get to your questions.
I’m in London for several days for a range of things including bilateral conversations with British counterparts on all of the issues we deal with together. That includes just about all of them. I’d say as a general rule the relationship with the U.K. and the relationship with Europe in general, as long as I’ve been doing these issues, really hasn’t been better in terms of the commonality of our strategic approach to so many big questions of the day. I say that not just in contrast with the previous administration where there were obviously some noticeable transatlantic differences, but even going back further than that. When you think about the degree to which we are working together and have the same approaches on Iran, Afghanistan, NATO, Russia, Balkans, I think we’re in excellent shape. That’s not to say that we’ve got all the answers or that we don’t face tremendous challenges because obviously we do. But our understanding in Washington is that to deal with these challenges we need strong and effective partners and there are no better ones than those we have in Europe and particularly in the U.K. These days are a chance for me to go over this full range of issues with British counterparts.
Particularly on the eve of some important developments, there are always big policy issues going on, but we’ve got a few summits coming up that we’re working together on. Obviously the NATO summit in Lisbon the 19th and 20th. That will also include a NATO-Russia summit, a US-EU summit also in Lisbon, and then an OSCE summit in Astana, Kazakhstan. These summits are often driving forces for our cooperation. We think we have a pretty good set of agendas and outcomes and we’ll use these opportunities for our leaders to meet and further harmonize the way we’re approaching these issues.
I’m happy to say more about the summits. You may have questions, but maybe I’ll just leave it at that to begin and see what you’re interested in.
QUESTION: I’m interested in the summit next week. Can you talk about from the US side what you’re hoping we’ll see?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: The first thing to say, we expect at the summit we’ll agree on a new Strategic Concept for NATO. It’s the first time since 1999 that NATO is redoing the Strategic Concept. The Secretary General has presented an excellent draft for allies to consider that reflects a good balance among the priorities of the alliance.
I would note, it has not been particularly contentious which is a good thing. There is always a question, how much consensus is there within the Alliance, are there deep divisions between East and West, or new members or old members, and there really hasn’t been. The Strategic Concept will reaffirm NATO’s core mission which is Article 5, defense of all of the members, but it also presents a good picture of the new and emerging security threats like ballistic missile proliferation, nuclear proliferation, cyber attacks, terrorism, and underscores that the alliance needs to be prepared to deal with those challenges as well.
We expect it to underscore that while reaffirming Article 5 and the importance of defense of all allies that we also don’t see Russia as an adversary. We see Russia as a partner and want to work with Russia. Thus we’re pleased there will be a NATO-Russia Council summit at the same time as the NATO summit. Russian President Medvedev agreed to come to that, and that will be an opportunity to demonstrate that a strong NATO is not inconsistent with the good relationship with Russia that we want.
Afghanistan will be a key issue at the summit. Obviously all NATO allies are involved in Afghanistan. This is an alliance effort. There are more than 40,000 troops in Afghanistan. The alliance role is indispensable, critical to what we, the United States, are trying to do. We have been working with allies to increase their commitments of troops and trainers and finances and we’ve been successful in that regard. It will be a good chance for leaders to touch base on the way forward and to consolidate what we’re together doing in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Why is the US interested in NATO going forward? The future powers in the region, in the world are obviously shifting. Isn’t it more in your interest to develop alliances across the Pacific perhaps?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I think I just gave one good answer to that question. To deal with some challenges in other parts of the world we need strong partners. And we have no better partners than the democratic, militarily capable, like-minded allies that we have in Europe. So yes, Afghanistan is a new challenge. It’s a global challenge. It’s a challenge to the United States. But to deal with Afghanistan we need our European partners and we need NATO. And I think that’s the best sort of compelling answer to that question is we need these partners to deal with even the new and emerging threats and challenges that we face.
We also obviously have a continued stake in Europe itself and NATO remains essential to preserving the peace and stability that we together won by creating NATO in the first place. It’s continuing to play a role in the Balkans and other regions. As I said, we’ve been in a gradual process of adapting NATO so that NATO allies are better prepared to deal with not just the conventional threat of an armed attack on one of its members, but also these emerging challenges like terrorism or cyber or ballistic missiles proliferation combined with nuclear weapons, and that’s why missile defense is another key objective for the United States and others within NATO, to get agreement on moving forward with the phased adaptive missile defense plan that the Obama administration has proposed. We’re working towards that goal as well, because just as in the past a major conventional armed attack was a threat to NATO and there has been nuclear threat to NATO, now the reality is that with ballistic missile proliferation there’s a potential ballistic missile threat to NATO and a growing one. We want to see allies prepared to deal with that threat. We’ve proposed a way to do it based on again, this phased adaptive approach to which the U.S. contribution would be SM-3 missiles and radars in Europe, and we want to see allies agree on the infrastructure and the command and control that would work with this phased adaptive approach so that allies are protected from this particular new threat of ballistic missile proliferation.
QUESTION: There have been some discordant notes. You talk about no better partners and all that, there have been some discordant notes in the run-up. Secretary Clinton and Secretary Gates have both complained pretty openly about defense cuts that are literally more of a burden for the United States, more gaps that the US will have to fill. It’s not quite all positive mood music, is it?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, I’m not sure I recall those critiques that you’re referring to. Secretary Gates and Clinton have both underscored the critical importance of defense spending. If we’re going to have an alliance, a defensive alliance, an alliance that deals with security, then countries need to maintain strong and capable militaries. So absolutely, the United States has and will continue to underscore the need for that. At the same time we also understand and respect the need for countries to take a tough look at their fiscal and budgetary situations - as we are - and to try to rationalize so they can spend as efficiently as possible and continue to adapt their militaries to deal with new challenges and have more flexible militaries.
It’s right that we want to make sure that all allies are able to contribute and maintain robust defense spending and we appreciate the contributions that they’re all making.
QUESTION: Can I ask you a couple of specifics, and then broaden out the next question?
Can you just for clarity give us a bit of a narrative of where you think and if possible in order these ballistic threats come from that you need to guard against?
And can you tell us a little bit more about Russia-NATO? For instance, what about Russian pressure to have specific caps on NATO troop numbers in post-communist member states, particularly as a tradeoff for collaboration in Afghanistan. Where are we on that?
And going back to the next question, it’s all very well to have a Strategic Concept, but is it credible, bearing in mind that if anything the movement within Europe is downwards on defense spending rather than upwards?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: On the first, we’ve been very clear about ballistic proliferation around the world, but particularly in the Middle East, and particularly where Iran is concerned. And when the President announced the Phased Adaptive Approach he noted that one of the reasons for shifting away from what the previous administration was doing was the growing threat from short and medium range ballistic missiles, in particular from Iran, which are already capable of hitting parts of Europe, will soon be able to hit all of Europe, and we felt because of that we needed in place a more flexible system that could deal with this very real and existing threat rather than some eventual or hypothetical threat of ICBMs down the road. We still need to be focused on that and deal with it, but in the mean time the threat of short and medium range ballistic missiles from the Middle East in general, and Iran in particular, is a threat that we think we need to be in a position to counter.
On Russia-NATO and any notions of limiting troop deployments in certain countries, we’ve always been clear that there should not be two tiers of NATO allies. We haven’t seen the need for large numbers or permanently deployed substantial combat forces in any of the newer member states. We continue not to see the need for that, but we’re also not prepared to compromise the notion that all allies are equal and NATO will do what it needs to do in order to ensure the defense of all allies.
And we don’t think that’s an obstacle to cooperation with Russia. I think we’ve shown in our bilateral relationship and the reset that we’re making progress with Russia in terms of arms control and New START, in terms of cooperation with Afghanistan and the lethal transit arrangements we’ve reached with the Russians, and we hope now to make progress in the NATO-Russia context just as we have in the bilateral context. That could mean cooperation with Russia on missile defense. We’ve always been clear- missile defense is not designed for Russia. We don’t have the capability to deal with the Russian deterrent. That’s not what this is about. And far from being designed to deal with Russia, we want to work cooperatively with Russia on missile defense, and we hope that the NATO-Russia Council will give us an opportunity to do that.
We’re working together with Russia on a joint assessment of 21st Century security challenges. One of those challenges being ballistic missile proliferation. We think Russia faces a threat just as we face a threat, and we should be working together and collaboratively on missile defense rather than seeing it as a problem between us.
We think we face a common threat in Afghanistan and we think the Russians recognize that and we can use the NATO-Russia Council to increase our cooperation there.
One of our long-term regrets is this notion of zero sum thinking in Europe that somehow if it’s a gain for NATO it’s a loss for Russia or vice versa. We need to get beyond that. We face a lot of common security challenges. And we’re hopeful that this NATO-Russia Council will be an opportunity to demonstrate that and to act upon it.
QUESTION: I wondered what the US take was on Britain’s decision to delay the main decision on funding for Trident’s renewal until after the next election.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: It’s a national decision for Britain to make. NATO as a whole has recognized that the independent nuclear deterrence of France and Britain as well as the strategic deterrent of the United States contributes to deterrence and our common security, but as for moving forward on how Britain maintains its deterrent, that’s for the British government to make.
QUESTION: With regard to Afghanistan and decisions next week, will there be anything on countries that are in areas that have been handed over to Afghan responsibility staying in country rather than withdrawing? So essentially the fairness of the burden of the war. Will there be anything on that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Will there be anything on that at the summit?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I’m not sure. It’s a good question that leaders will need to grapple with. You identify a real issue in that we want to maintain fair burden sharing and decisions on where to transition first would obviously affect who gets to withdraw at what pace. I think this is something the alliance as a whole is just going to need to work on and work through so that you don’t get these discrepancies on some countries getting to leave entirely, while others have to maintain their troops at the same levels. It’s just something we’re going to have to work out. The summit will obviously be a good place to do that.
QUESTION: Back to missile defense. There’s been discussion in the run-up characterized very boldly as a sort of Franco-German spat over where missile defense and nuclear deterrence and language on moving towards President Obama’s global zero. Is that still a live issue? And do you anticipate that the Strategic Concept will have language about complementarity? And will it mention the aim of global zero in the Strategic Concept, do you think?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I don’t know exactly what wording will be used in the Strategic Concept which is not yet finally agreed and approved, but I think I said earlier that the Secretary General’s draft reflected a good balance among priorities of all member states and that’s one on which I’m sure we can find the right balance.
In underscoring our common desire to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons, and President Obama’s view on that I think is well known, while also underscoring the need for continued deterrence in Europe. We’ve said and we’ve made clear that as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance. And I think all allies support this principle. Some more than others are anxious to move forward on the disarmament agenda and move more rapidly towards that nuclear-free world. Others are more focused on the need to preserve nuclear deterrence. But we all agree, I think, that as I said, as long as nuclear weapons exist NATO is going to be a nuclear alliance and the United States has underscored, Secretary Clinton outlined our principles for this at the Tallinn NATO Ministerial and also underscored that not only so long as nuclear weapons exist NATO will remain a nuclear alliance; but the nuclear risks and responsibilities should be widely shared among NATO allies. And in particular where non-strategic nuclear weapons or tactical nuclear weapons are concerned, as we move towards reductions we’ll need to take into account Russian non-strategic nuclear weapons as well.
QUESTION: The recent British-French defense treaty, does that strengthen or weaken NATO?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: It should strengthen NATO. The reason Britain and France did it was in the context of rationalizing budgets and saving money. They felt that they could have more capable and effective armed forces by cooperating on technology and research and possibly even joint deployments. We appreciate the thinking behind that effort. If all goes as planned it would actually be a contribution to NATO.
QUESTION: Given the differences between France and the US on military strategy in the past, does that not raise prospects of perhaps compromising Britain’s ability to stand with the US perhaps in future operations?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: First, I think you’re right to make reference to France’s views in the past, because it highlights the fact that France is now reintegrated into NATO’s military commands, strongly supports NATO, works closely with the United States, and that’s why I say this can contribute to NATO rather than in any way distract from it.
We have no reason at all to believe that Britain is interested in weakening NATO or the defense relationship with the United States, and working together with France we don’t see as a zero-sum game at all.
QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit about the reform? Is that going to be part of the agreement? Do you think the reforms that are being proposed go far enough? The cuts in the headquarters staff to 9,000 I think. The U.K.’s trying to push further. They want 8,000 or below. What do you think about that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: You mean reforms in the military structure which has been under discussion for some time?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Not yet agreed, but we think an important step forward. We’ll see exactly where it comes out. But the common view, just as Secretary Gates has undertaken this type of effort within the United States of looking at infrastructure and bureaucracy, we think that needs to be done on the military side of NATO and on the civilian side of NATO. The Secretary General has already undertaken tackling it on the civilian side. He noted that when he became Secretary General there were too many committees. I think he said he was told there were some 300 committees in NATO which he found far too great a number. Then as he got into the job a little bit he discovered there were actually 400, and he’s been working to reduce that number because none of us have extra money to spend on unnecessary committees. I think the same is true on the military infrastructure. If it does end up in a place where there’s an agreement on reducing that by 8,000 or 9,000 while preserving the infrastructure’s ability to do what NATO needs to do, that would be a very positive step forward.
QUESTION: Do all the developments you’ve talked about -- the reintegration of France into NATO, the fact that everyone’s trying to save money -- has that in any way changed Washington’s perspective on the potential role of the EU in defense and security matters? There’s been a perception of it being very skeptical because of concerns about maintaining NATO’s primacy. Would you be more relaxed about that idea if it was a way of reducing duplication and things like that? Is there a change potentially there, do you think?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I referred to a sort of consensus around the Strategic Concept. I was reminded of or thinking of, compared to the last time, say in 1999, when the issue you raise was such a contentious one. It was after, if you remember, the St. Malo agreement and people were wondering were Britain and France and others trying to strengthen the EU defense at the expense of NATO? And what did that mean for NATO? For some time we had France and Germany in particular really keen on a separate EU defense identity and NATO allies worried about that. I think those disputes are mostly in the past.
As I say, since then France has reintegrated NATO’s military commands and is a strong and committed NATO partner. We have made clear we don’t feel threatened by EU defense. If the European Union can strengthen its ability to undertake military operations, that’s a good thing for us and a good thing for NATO. We have the same objectives as I began by saying in Europe and Afghanistan with Russia, in Africa, in terms of humanitarian or peacekeeping operations. So we’re in a good place on that balance and believe that EU defense cooperation can strengthen our common objectives rather than undermine them.
QUESTION: I wondered if you could tell me a bit more about efforts to do cyber security in NATO. Forgive me if this already exists. Is it going to be a new setup or a new unit of NATO forces? And is there going to be any cyber offensive capabilities [inaudible]?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: One of the things we hope the summit will launch is increased NATO efforts to deal with cyber. It’s a priority for President Obama at the national level in the United States. He has mobilized our resources and appointed a new coordinator for dealing with the cyber challenge. It is in many ways, NATO has faced evolving threats before, big conventional attack, potential nuclear attack, ballistic missile attack, and now we need to be realistic about the fact that there is a potential cyber attack and we need to be better prepared to deal with it.
A lot of cyber responsibilities, of course, are national. The European Union also takes responsibility for this so we don’t want to suggest in any way that this is an exclusive domain at NATO, but NATO itself has infrastructure and obviously computer networks that need to be protected. The summit will identify that, the Strategic Concept will identify that threat, draw attention to it, and call on the alliance to develop its means to deal with it.
There is a Cyber Excellence Center in Estonia, I’ll have to check exactly the name of it, Center for Excellence on Cyber. The Estonians know something about this, having been subjected to a cyber attack in the past. The United States is working with the Estonians and other allies as well to develop that. It’s a top priority for all of us.
QUESTION: Where do you see the main threats coming from with regards to cyber attacks?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: They could come from anywhere. That’s, indeed, the problem or the challenge in such an integrated world. It could come from a state, it could come from a terrorist organization. Our networks are globalized and therefore vulnerable to global threats from anywhere.
QUESTION: Any particular states?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I don’t have a list for you.
QUESTION: On the counterterrorism front, just to switch things slightly, there have been a couple of incidents recently, there was the package bomb incident which was portrayed as a great example of cooperation. But just before that there were the security alerts in Europe and travel warning from the US and so on and so forth, which many said highlighted that there are still actually significant differences in terms of approaches, particularly when to go public and so on and so forth. Have you been discussing that with people here? Would you portray that as something that needs work on?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: You’re now out of the NATO context, just in general?
QUESTION: Yes, sorry.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Yes, I have been discussing it with colleagues. It’s obviously at the top of our agenda. You mentioned some recent incidents that just remind us that the threat is out there and it’s real and it underscores we take these issues very seriously. If we issue a travel alert, it’s because we’re concerned that there’s a real threat, and I think these recent incidents underscore that that’s the case. As all of our experts keep saying, they only have to get lucky once, and with numerous attempts, we all have to be concerned that one of these times an attempt will succeed which would have dramatic, potentially devastating consequences. So there can be no higher priority.
I think we’re mutually committed to this. We work very well in terms of intelligence sharing on the counterterrorism issue. I think Europeans understood the travel alert; they see a lot of the same intelligence that we do. We all need to do as much as we can on this issue.
I think there are transatlantic issues in this regard we need to keep working on. We had a joint success in the terrorist finance tracking program efforts where after some initial differences we came to what we think is a reasonable compromise on that. There’s this issue of passenger name records that needs to be discussed further so we can reach a common agreement on that. We all need to strike the right balance between privacy and security, but because there’s such a real terrorist threat it’s important that we do everything we can to have access to information we need to protect our citizens from that threat.
QUESTION: Back to your earlier remarks about the new strategy you hope is agreed. Can you give us an outline of the new strategy is and how it differs from the past ten years?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: What do you mean by the new strategy?
QUESTION: You said you hope to launch --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: The Strategic Concept?
QUESTION: Yes. What’s its outline and how does it differ from the last ten years?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: It’s not dramatically different. Already ten years ago we were aware of evolving and changing threats and needed to balance traditional Article 5 defense of all NATO members with this. But over the past ten years we’ve seen further evolution. That’s why I say this one we hope will reaffirm Article 5 and collective defense, but will also elaborate on the new security environment that NATO faces which includes ballistic missile proliferation, potential cyber attacks, terrorism, energy vulnerabilities, and that will be a basic framework. I also mentioned working with Russia dealing with global challenges.
QUESTION: On Russia, do you think Russia will agree to integrate any of its systems into the NATO command and control area? Or do you think that will have to wait until New START is ratified?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I think talking of integrating command and control systems is probably premature. We do want to move forward on missile defense cooperation with Russia. That might initially begin by resuming theater missile defense exercises which NATO and Russia had already done together and we think should resume. Then after that, there are a lot of different options for pursuing cooperation. So long as we all operate on the premise that missile defense isn’t designed for Russia, it’s something we should be doing together. On a technical level there are lots of different ways in which NATO and Russia could expand that cooperation.
QUESTION: So I’ve heard this message repeated many times, that missile defense, ballistic defense isn’t a threat to Russia and you're trying to include Russia, et cetera, et cetera. Given that we’ve got this summit coming up, what have you heard from Russia now with regards to the issue? What are they telling you about it? If their mind has changed, why has it changed?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: First, you need to hear from them directly. They have asked a lot of questions about what the phased adaptive approach consists of; they do want to be sure that it’s not targeted at Russia and doesn’t have a capability of undermining the Russian deterrent which they’re determined to preserve.
I think on the whole they have welcomed it in contrast to the previous administration’s approach which they were very critical of, and I think they’ve shown a willingness to work with us on this. As I say, we hope in the joint assessment of 21st Century security challenges we can reach an agreement on missile proliferation being one such threat; an agreement to work cooperatively to dealing with it.
So as long as we can successfully assure them that it’s not targeted at Russia and isn’t about developing a capability to deal with Russian ICBMs, I think they agree that there’s a growing threat and that we should work together to deal with it.
QUESTION: Do you think you’ve successfully assured them?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I think they still have some questions. They've made that clear. There’s the issue that I mentioned of dealing with, of a potential capability to deal with Russian ICBMs, and there’s also the issue they would obviously like a say in how the architecture is developed. We’ve said that a third country can’t have a veto over NATO’s plans, but we should be talking as soon as possible about how Russia might fit in. NATO’s not going to wait for agreements by third parties before it decides what it needs to do, but the sooner we can start working with Russia the more involved they’ll be in how this evolves.
QUESTION: How concerning -- [inaudible] our defense, and also threats and the architecture you’re talking about -- how concerning is the uncertainty over Turkey’s position at the moment? There is the question of whether they might host a site; there’s a question over what sort of language they’d accept within the Strategic Concept on what this system is aimed against. Where are we with that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: We’re continuing to work on that set of issues. Like all allies, Turkey has had questions as well, and that’s part of the ongoing discussion as we head up to the summit. All allies have recognized in the past that there’s a growing threat and that ballistic missile defenses can contribute to allied security, and we just need to work with Turkey and others on finalizing exactly how we might describe what that threat is and how to describe the coverage that ballistic missile defense would provide in Europe. We have ongoing discussions with the Turks and we’re confident that we’ll reach agreement on missile defense with them and others.
QUESTION: Can I ask a more general question? First of all, I probably should know this, but are you traveling widely in Europe on this trip? Are you --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: This trip I’m just coming to London.
QUESTION: My broader question, can you relate all this and give a bit of perspective on where you think we are first with Iran, and second with the Middle East peace process?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: On Iran, where to start. We have made clear, the Obama administration has made clear that we seek a diplomatic solution with Iran. The goal is to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability and we have been ready to talk to Iran about how to mutually agree to that goal. Our framework for doing so is the P5+1 process. We put that on the table. We offered what we thought was a reasonable path forward to Iran including in the short term last October’s proposal to buy time through the Tehran research reactor and getting some LEU out of Iran that would give us time to work on the core issue which is its enrichment program.
Iran didn’t accept that deal and we made clear that if it didn’t satisfy the international community about its nuclear weapons, its potential nuclear weapons program, that there would have to be consequences, and that was the next phase that we moved into. Resolution 1929 underscored the will of the international community that Iran wasn’t responding appropriately, and there needed to be consequences. I just note that there was support among all the permanent members of the Security Council for that, as well as most of the non-permanent members of all sorts of, from very diverse places -- Mexico, Japan, Gabon, Uganda.
So that demonstrated, we think, quite clearly that the international community was serious about this. 1929 was a serious resolution with teeth. It was followed up by complementary EU sanctions and Australia and Canada and from the United States as well. I think these sanctions are having an effect. We made clear that the world was united on this and that there would be costs and consequences for Iran, and that’s the phase we’re in now. And we’ve said it’s not inconsistent with the other leg of the policy which is engagement and dialogue. We’ve said we’re ready again in the P5+1 context. Our Representative Ashton sort of is the spokesperson for the P5+1. She’s offered talks with Iran. She’s offered dates. And we’re waiting for --
QUESTION: That’s what Iran said it would accept yesterday, but said we won’t talk about the nuclear issue.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: They have been haggling over their acceptance. They’ve talked about accepting and insisting it has to be in one place rather than another. They haven’t given the answer we need which is genuine talks about the nuclear issue. They keep wanting to talk about near-term things like the Tehran declaration and the Turkish-Brazilian proposal, which for us is a stepping stone towards the key issue which is the uranium enrichment program and potential nuclear weapons program. It’s not the answer. That was again part of the October deal last year. It wasn’t just about getting the LEU out, it was about talks in the P5+1 about the core issue. And ultimately that’s what we’re going to need to talk about.
QUESTION: Specifically the Foreign Minister said yesterday we’re going to come, we’re going to talk, we’re happy, but not about the nuclear issue which is an unknown --
QUESTION: Ahmadinejad said that today.
QUESTION: Good, they’ve said it twice now.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I haven’t seen his remarks, but if that’s what he said that obviously doesn’t meet the conditions that we’ve put forward for what the talks need to be about.
QUESTION: Is it your understanding that Cathy Ashton is still insisting that the nuclear issue be the sole topic of the conversation on say November 15th?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I don’t know if we need to say the nuclear issue needs to be the sole topic of the conversation. We’ve all made clear to Iran that we are open to a dialogue on the range of issues, but it needs to be part of the conversation. And again, it’s not sufficient to have a conversation about interim measures or the Tehran research reactor alone. The October of last year agreement from the P5+1 was in part about the Tehran research reactor, but also made clear that the critical condition is engagement on the core issue which is reassuring the international community that Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapons capability. That’s what we ultimately need to talk about if this issue is going to be resolved. And failing that, our position will be that there will continue to need to be consequences for Iran of the sort that we’ve already seen.
QUESTION: Very briefly, before I let you talk about the Middle East peace process, you hinted --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well done. [Laughter].
QUESTION: You hinted that you thought that the latest round of sanctions is beginning to have an effect, and there is some British analysis that suggests that they may be recalibrating the opportunity cost in Tehran of continuing with this policy. There may be people, it’s very hard to read, of the regime saying actually the cost domestically in economic terms may be becoming increasingly high and we’re going to have to be more flexible. Do you see any signs of that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: None of us would claim perfect insight into the domestic situation in Iran and the way these things play out. But yes, we do think that the sanctions have had an effect and that they have taken notice in Tehran. We’d like to believe that one reason Iran is showing now some willingness to talk about in the next round of talks is that they were struck by the international consensus. We’ve seen that in the past as well when at the IAEA or the UN Security Council there was a clear view of international community that there had to be consequences for Iran, that Iranians have taken notice. And there really has been, as I mentioned, not just the Security Council, but the EU measures, Canadian, Australian and ours. And then Russia making clear that they were not only prepared to implement the Resolution 1929, but that also they wouldn’t move forward on the S-300 sale to Iran. I think Iran is starting to understand that the international community really is united on this issue and that’s, we think, the only way forward.
QUESTION: Now in our last five minutes, the Middle East.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: The President is and remains committed to moving forward on Middle East peace. It was a priority when he came into office, it’s a priority for the administration. That’s why he and the Secretary got so engaged and are continuing their relentless efforts to try to move it forward. No one pretends it’s not difficult and we’re not satisfied with the amount of progress that we’ve made. But we’ll keep trying. Ultimately we all know that the only solution -- we’ve reiterated this many times -- is an Israel that can live in peace and security side by side with the Palestinian state that can live in peace and security. And as difficult as it is, the Secretary, Senator Mitchell, the whole team will continue their efforts.
We’re working together with the Europeans on the issue. We share a view, and I talked about our strategic convergence, it applies to the Middle East as well. The quartet at which the EU is represented is in unison. So there’s international agreement on this issue just as there is on the Iranian issue without, again, claiming that somehow that’s a sufficient condition for reaching our goals.
QUESTION: There’s been criticism that Europe should be doing more on the issue. Does the U.S. share that view?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Criticism that Europe should be doing more on the Middle East?
QUESTION: To spur the Middle East peace process.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: No, as I say, I think we’re working well together on it.
QUESTION: Should we expect to see even greater political capital being invested by the administration in trying to do the Middle East peace process? If you accept that it’s possibly such a dynamic, catalytic factor in all the things we’ve talked about, not least Iran?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I think you’ve already seen significant political capital. The Secretary took several trips there. She continues, it’s always on the agenda when our leaders meet with their counterparts in Europe and everywhere else. So I think we’re already devoting very significant political capital and I expect that to continue. We’re not going to give up.
QUESTION: Have there been any successes in two years?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I said I think we’re disappointed at where things are.
QUESTION: Does that ultimately mean more pressure on the Israeli Prime Minister in order to get things to move?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: We’re pressing all of the parties to move. We’ve been clear, we wanted to see the moratorium extended because we thought that that would facilitate talks going on. Talks are the only way this is going to move. But both sides have a lot of work they have to do and we’ve pressed both sides.
QUESTION: Can I ask a general question? The political landscape in the US has changed dramatically. Foreign affairs wasn’t really figuring in the midterm elections at all. But I just wonder if you have had any questions from here in terms of what might change or complicate the agenda. Do you see it complicating the agenda generally in terms of foreign policy? Particularly perhaps obviously in Europe, but on things like ratifying the START treaty and so on and so forth. Isn’t that going to be more problematic now?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well as you note, foreign policy didn’t actually loom large in the midterm elections. They were about a lot of different issues. And there wasn’t a strong -- It would be hard to find a strong message coming out that oh, the administration was doing X and it needs to do Y.
So I don’t think it will lead to a change of course on the big things that we’re trying to do. There’s actually broad bipartisan support for most of what the administration is doing in foreign policy terms. It could complicate START ratification. We have to do the counts, but we’ll see -- First of all, we’re going to try to ratify new START in the so-called lame duck session of this Congress, so it will be the same members. It won’t have an impact then. But if it doesn’t go through in the lame duck session, there might be a new configuration, but we continue to believe there’s a strong case for ratification and are hopeful that it will get done by this Congress meeting in the lame duck session. Otherwise I don’t expect any change of course in foreign policy, both because the President’s determined to continue to do what he thinks is right for the country, and because there’s no sign that there was opposition to that foreign policy course in the election campaign or from the election results.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Thank you. It’s good to see you.