Briefing With Ambassador Philip T. Reeker On Secretary Pompeo’s Travel to Czech Republic, Slovenia, Austria

MR BROWN: Hey, good morning, everyone. Thank you for joining us for this call previewing Secretary Pompeo’s upcoming trip to Europe. The Secretary will be traveling to the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Austria, and Poland. He announced the trip officially just a couple of days ago and the trip announcement is also available on the website.

Just a reminder: This call is on the record and can be attributed to Ambassador Philip Reeker, who is the acting assistant secretary for our Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. The information discussed on this call is embargoed until the call is completed. And for the Q&A, please note this is an opportunity to discuss the Secretary’s upcoming travel, and so we’d appreciate you keeping questions focused appropriately.

All right. And with that, I’ll hand it over to Ambassador Reeker. Please, go ahead.

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Hey, thanks, Cale. And good morning, everybody. Looking forward to being back on the road with Secretary Pompeo, an opportunity for him to visit again Central Europe. Many will recall that about a year and a half ago, he had a trip there to a number of allies, members of the Visegrad Group, and this is an opportunity to continue and extend that.

On August 11th, as the Secretary himself announced, he will arrive in the Czech Republic. And it’s an opportunity there to further deepen the excellent bilateral relationship we have with the Czech Republic. It’s in context, of course, to realize that this has been an important anniversary year in terms of Europe, in terms of our engagement, the transatlantic alliance, both recalling the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II but also the anniversaries in terms of those countries in the region throwing off the Iron Curtain and communism. We’ll be able to reflect, I think, with our Czech partners, certainly, the common approach that we have to many of the challenges globally.

We are, of course, with the Czechs steadfast allies and partners. We’ve worked together to strengthen security and promote economic development and democratic values throughout the region, defending basic human rights. These will all be important themes I think in our – the Secretary’s conversations there. We certainly look to the Czech Republic as a partner in regions around the world beyond Europe and the transatlantic area; that includes Afghanistan and Iraq, where they’ve been steadfast partners, allies, as well as in Syria, where I’d remind you that the Czech Republic serves as the U.S. protecting power.

We’re also, of course, deeply connected through a multitude of historic and cultural, personal ties between our countries; those are important things that we like to underscore and stress. Many Czechs cherish the memory of our forces liberating Western Bohemia, including Pilsen, back in May of 1945, and we’ve always appreciated how Czech citizens have celebrated the anniversary over the years and keep this memory alive. And so Secretary Pompeo will join with Foreign Minister Petricek to mark the liberation at a ceremony in Pilsen. I’d note, of course, that this was a liberation, and that’s I think why the Czechs have always marked the important events there, in contrast to the behavior of the Red Army at the time, whose occupation paved the way for imposition of the communist dictatorship in what was then Czechoslovakia, which, as you know, lasted until the Velvet Revolution in 1989.

From the Czech Republic, Secretary Pompeo will travel to Slovenia on August 13. This will be the first visit of a secretary of state in Slovenia since 2001 and, in fact, the first bilateral visit of a secretary since 1997. Slovenia has been a NATO member since 2004. It’s proven to be a capable, reliable defense partner. They’ve deployed forces to every allied operation, as well as EU and UN missions. And we certainly welcome the Slovenian Government’s recent commitment to increasing defense spending to meet its Wales Pledge commitments and NATO capability goals, addressing recruitment challenges that they’ve had, and demonstrating continued steadfast readiness as a transatlantic ally.

I’d note that Slovenia plays a leading role in promoting stability and security and the Euro-Atlantic goals of integration throughout the Western Balkans. We’ve worked with the Slovenians often on those issues. I’m sure that will come up during the visit. Two-thirds of Slovenia’s own bilateral foreign assistance budget goes to the Western Balkan region and they have partnered with the United States over the past two decades to conduct demining operations and mine awareness training in the Western Balkans, as well as more broadly around the world.

We’ll look forward in Slovenia to signing of the U.S.-Slovenia Joint Declaration on 5G Security, and that of course reflects our shared dedication to protecting privacy and integrity of high-tech infrastructure and individual liberties of the citizens of United States and Slovenia, at the same time benefiting from the tremendous economic opportunities that 5G will afford us.

We’ll travel on to Austria later that day on the 13th, and in Vienna Secretary Pompeo will meet with Chancellor Kurz, Foreign Minister Schallenberg, and other senior government officials. Of course, the United States and Austria share a long history of common values and perspectives on human rights, Vienna being a major center of diplomatic activity for centuries. We have a shared vision of peace and freedom for all, and really this is a great opportunity to talk about Austria as an East-West hub, a venue for international dialogue and negotiations.

I think you’re all aware that Austria hosts the International Atomic Energy Agency and several UN bodies. We of course have three missions there: bilateral U.S. mission to Austria as well as our mission to the UN agencies and the IAEA and our mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE.

Then finally, the final stop on this trip will be travel to Poland on the 15th. The visit to Warsaw will coincide with the centennial anniversary of Poland’s victory over the Bolshevik forces in the Battle of Warsaw. That was August, obviously, 1920. There’s also this month’s 40th anniversary of the founding of Solidarity, the free trade union and political social movement that did so much to bring about the collapse of communism in Europe, fall of the Iron Curtain, and the return of the region to the West.

I think it’s fair to say Poland is one of our closest and strongest allies. We enjoy unprecedented level of bilateral relations. You will recall that President Duda was here in Washington not that long ago, and we work together on a broad range of global challenges, promoting international peace and stability, of course safeguarding European security and global energy security – important topic there – countering transnational terrorism, and promoting economic prosperity.

Since Poland became a NATO member in 1999, which we underscored and celebrated when we hosted the NATO Defense Ministerial back in last year in April, our bilateral military ties have grown ever closer. Poland hosts thousands of U.S. troops rotating annually as part of our joint efforts to ensure European security, and of course we’ve – as we’ve said before, we appreciate Poland’s generous offers to contribute major resources to support an additional U.S. military presence. We have been very pleased just in this past week to have completed negotiation of the enhanced defense cooperation agreement with Poland, and it’s a reminder that Poland is one of the just a handful of NATO allies that already meets its Wales Pledge of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense.

One element that reflects the really strong friendship and people-people – people-to-people ties that stretch back for centuries, if you think about the proud role of – Americans played in Poland’s rebirth in 1989, but certainly the role of Poles in the birth and development of our country over the last more than 200, 300 years. So our relationship there is again built on a strong foundation of shared values, and these are the types of things we will be able to talk about in all four countries that we visit, underscoring our strong engagement with Central Europe as part of our broader transatlantic work.

So why don’t I stop there, and be happy to take questions. Thanks, Cale.

MR BROWN: Great. If you’d like to ask a question, dial 1 and then 0. Our first question, if we could go to the line of Matt Lee, please.

QUESTION: I have two things. One: Can you be a little bit more specific? When it comes to the concerns about Russia in terms of energy and China in terms of 5G and high tech about – can you be more specific about your concerns for each of the stops on this?

And then secondly – and I know this is not your area, but you did come from EUCOM – so I’m just wondering, how much will the European troop redeployment issues – how high on the agenda are those, do you think, in each of these stops, particularly Poland? Thanks.

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Thanks, Matt. Let me take that second question first, and really, that’s something that the Defense Department has the lead on and has briefed extensively on. But in terms of your specific question, “Will this be on the agenda,” obviously I think in Poland where we just completed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, certainly we – we’ll have a chance to talk about that. This provides a framework for us to strengthen even further NATO and the broad transatlantic security for decades into the future. It really reflects kind of a shared vision that we’ve talked about now for a number of years, and the joint declarations that Presidents Trump and Duda signed in 2019, and of course just in June reaffirmed in President Duda’s visit here. It will enable the U.S. military forces in Poland to expand in terms of the rotational forces that go through there. It augments the NATO Status of Forces Agreement. Since that agreement is done and signed, I think we’ll sort of be looking at that as an accomplishment. I’m not sure we’ll have to delve into that further.

In terms of the broader issues of force deployment, I’ll have to leave that to DOD. But this does allow the United States and Poland and the whole alliance to focus on allied deterrence and defense along its eastern flank. That gets to your broader question of Russia, the challenges and threats that Russia poses, and that’s what our enhanced forward presence has been about. Certainly, energy security is one of those areas where we have expressed our concerns and our support for countries like Poland and others in the region for being able to diversify their sources of energy so that Russia does not have that tool of control, and that is an ongoing discussion. We have been very dedicated to helping those countries find alternate sources so that they can diversify from Russia. I would say that goes really for all of the countries, and I’m sure energy will be high on the discussion there.

In terms of China, there have been lots and lots of briefings from the Secretary himself about our concerns in terms of Chinese infiltration into high-tech networks, particularly when it comes to 5G, the risks that poses. We’ve been discussing with all our allies and friends the same realizations that we’ve come to in recent years about that, about some of the malign intent of the Chinese Government, the Chinese Communist Party, and what they’ve been up to over a long period of time. And so we’ve been talking quite regularly and quite publicly about our concerns there. As you know, the Czech Republic has been a real leader in dealing with these issues, the Prague principles conference that they’ve hosted to discuss these issues, and how we can move forward to enjoy the benefits of high technology while maintaining the security of citizens’ data and our own national security concerns. But I think that will be something in each country, as I noted. In Slovenia, we will sign a 5G agreement with the Slovenians, something we’ve done with a number of other countries in that region.

And just then looping back around to your second question, again, on the broader issue of security, also in Slovenia, as in the Czech Republic, important NATO allies, we’ll be able to discuss close security cooperation and how that plays in – even Austria, which is not a member of NATO, of course, but part of the Partnership for Peace, and with which we have excellent relations on a broad range of security issues as well.

So plenty to talk about across both those areas. Thanks.

MR BROWN: Great. For our second question, can we go to the line of Judith Egger with the Austrian Press Agency?

QUESTION: Yes. I wanted to ask you, could you give us more details about the main topic of the meeting of the Secretary of State with the Austrian Chancellor Kurz and also foreign minister? What will be the main issues?

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Well, again, I think we’ll have an opportunity to look broadly at the shared common values and perspectives that we have with Austria. Whether it’s on human rights or rule of law, we are bound together, I think, through a myriad of different contexts: business and investments, economic things. There will be a good opportunity for the Secretary to discuss with the leaders not just in Austria but in other countries the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery from that.

It’s worth noting, I think, that Austria is a large investor in the United States, and a number of Austrian companies have made recent investment commitments worth billions of dollars that will create hundreds of American jobs, and I believe the United States is Austria’s second largest export market after Germany. And so U.S.-Austria bilateral trade enjoys an upward trend, and that’s an important topic.

You know that Chancellor Kurz met with President Trump back in February of 2019 and revitalized the bilateral relationship there. We’ve been exploring new avenues for transatlantic cooperation to address the whole range of issues. We had expected the chancellor to have a second visit to the White House back in March of this year. That, of course, was postponed due to COVID-19, so we have a lot of common interests that the Secretary can discuss with both the chancellor and the foreign minister. Western Balkans is important, Israel, Venezuela, and of course, again, with that nexus on security and defense, Austria is an important contributor to peacekeeping missions in the region – Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina, but also to the D-ISIS coalition. Austria contributes to NATO’s Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East and Africa. So there’s really a whole range of things to talk about.

I’d mention too the range of programs like the Fulbright Austria program, which is this year celebrating its 75th year, and I’m sure that will come up in their discussions as well as our joint interests in a number of the same international multilateral organizations like OSCE that Austria hosts, WTO. So plenty to talk about in both those meetings.

MR BROWN: Okay. I think we have time for one, maybe two more. Let’s go to the line of Nike Ching.

QUESTION: Ambassador Reeker, on 5G, could you please tell us more about the joint declaration on 5G technology in Slovenia? What is the gist of that? As you know, U.S. has commended Czech Republic and Poland for choosing trusted vendors in their 5G networks. Is Slovenia joining these countries in the 5G Clean Networks? I understand State Department recently released 5G Clean Networks. Could you please tell us which telecom providers in these nations are considered as a 5G Clean Network? Thank you very much. Thank you very much.

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Thanks for your question and your interest. I’m going to leave those countries and your reporting to cover that kind of issue and not try to delve into specifics on each country.

Slovenia joins a number of other countries in signing a U.S.-Slovenia joint declaration on exactly what you said, 5G Clean Network security, which is a reflection of the shared dedication to protecting privacy. That means privacy and security of the data of citizens both of Slovenia and the United States. That will be signed by the Secretary and the foreign minister of Slovenia. While we’re there, we’ll release a copy. You’ll see it. It’s basically a broad outline that indicates, as it has in the other joint declarations we’ve signed with other countries, this shared view on the importance of secure networks, of clean networks and safe vendors. And that’s the way we’ve been approaching the challenges frankly that we’ve seen from China in terms of penetration of 5G networks and the threat that that poses to our own security.

MR BROWN: Okay. We have (inaudible).

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Cale, just to expand a little on that question, we look at 5G as an important part of our work with countries in Europe as well as around the world on this important high-tech area. Slovenia, as an example, has a long history of excellence in engineering and science and technology, and like other countries in Central Europe there are a number of opportunities that they’ve spawned recently for collaboration in areas like artificial intelligence and cyber security, and also biotech. And so that will be a theme in Slovenia but in the other countries as well in terms of efforts being made to fight COVID-19, to improve our resilience going forward in that. So really there’s a broad range of things to discuss in all four of the countries we’ll visit.

MR BROWN: Okay. We have time for one last question. Let’s go to the line of Amanda Macias with CNBC.

QUESTION: I’m curious, there’s reports potentially that Mrs. Pompeo will be traveling with the Secretary, and I was wondering why that would be and if State could offer any assurance that all of the costs of that portion of the trip would be run through the proper channels.

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Oh, I apologize, I had you on mute. I’m sorry. I would refer you to the – to PA on that. I focused on the program in terms of our stops and our European partners.

Cale, over to you.

MR BROWN: Yeah, I don’t have the details on the exact individual makeup of the delegations going with the Secretary, but I can take that as a taken question.

All right. It looks like we’ve – let’s take one last question from (inaudible). Last question, then.

QUESTION: Hi. Hello, there. Can you hear me?


QUESTION: Oh, great. So the Czech President Milos Zeman, he is – he tends to be quite pro-Russian leaning. Is that something that Secretary Pompeo is going to bring up with him while visiting, or what are the details of the planned visit? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Well, as is normal in most visits, I believe the Secretary has scheduled a courtesy call on the president of the Czech Republic while he’s in Prague, and they will have a short discussion, I am sure, on a range of issues. As I said, the Czech Republic is a strong ally, a NATO member, a longstanding partner. We have a lot other celebrate with them and I’m sure plenty of things for leaders to discuss. So once the meeting takes place, we can try to let you know – was any particular topics to discuss there.

MR BROWN: Okay. Ambassador, thank you for taking the time out to brief us this morning. And for everyone who jumped on the call, I appreciate everyone dialing in. This is the end of the call, so the embargo on the contents is lifted. Everyone, please have a great day, a great weekend.

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