Briefing with Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Karen Donfried on Secretary’s Upcoming Travel to Germany

MR PRICE: Good morning, everyone, and thanks very much for joining us. We are pleased to have with us today Dr. Karen Donfried, our assistant secretary for our Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. She will offer an outline of the Secretary’s upcoming travel to Germany and France. She will then be in a position to take a few questions. This call is on the record, but it is embargoed until the conclusion of the call. So with that, I will turn it over to Assistant Secretary Donfried.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: Thanks so much, Ned. Hello to all of you who have taken the time to join today’s call. The Secretary’s trip to Europe comes as the Kremlin’s war on Ukraine has entered a different phase, one that is no less dangerous, as Russia shifts the focus of its assault to Ukraine’s south and east. As Russia’s brutal war against the people of Ukraine continues, our coordination with our European allies and partners is more important than ever. Putin has failed to divide the United States and our allies and partners; in fact, we are stronger and more united than ever.

The Secretary’s first stop will be Berlin, where he will attend an informal meeting of NATO foreign ministers. U.S. Ambassador to NATO Julie Smith will represent the United States at the opening session on Saturday, and the Secretary will lead the U.S. delegation for the meetings on Sunday. The ministers of foreign affairs of Finland and Sweden will participate in the North Atlantic Council informal dinner on Saturday evening. In Berlin, Allies will discuss their unified response to Putin’s war against Ukraine, the upcoming Leaders’ Summit in Madrid, and the revision of NATO’s Strategic Concept.

NATO’s Strategic Concept is a key document for the Alliance. It reaffirms NATO’s values and purpose and provides a collective assessment of the security environment. Ahead of the 2022 Leaders’ Summit in Madrid, NATO Allies have been engaged in a series of consultations to revise NATO’s Strategic Concept, to update its characterization of the evolving strategic environment, and highlight the Alliance’s core tasks and approach to addressing these threats and challenges. This Strategic Concept will make clear that NATO is now stronger, more united, and more capable of addressing 21st century threats.

The meeting will also be an opportunity for the Secretary to coordinate with NATO Allies on our collective defense posture, integral to the Alliance’s commitment to defend every inch of NATO territory. Across the Alliance, we see Allies stepping up to contribute additional defensive resources like forces, fighter jets, ships, equipment, and other capabilities.

On May 15, the Secretary will travel to Paris, where he will attend the second ministerial meeting of the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council, known as the TTC. He will be joined by U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. They will meet with EU leaders to discuss how democratic approaches to trade, technology, and innovation can serve as a force for greater prosperity while protecting and advancing our shared values. The Secretary will also meet with stakeholders from business, labor, and civil society to hear their views on the TTC’s past and future work.

This meeting follows the TTC’s inaugural ministerial meeting held in September in Pittsburgh. Since Pittsburgh, the TTC’s ten working groups have gathered regularly to advance the goals set out in that first ministerial meeting.

The TTC forms a cornerstone of the U.S.-EU economic partnership and promotes an affirmative agenda on key global technology, economic, and trade issues based on our shared democratic values, while working to reduce areas of friction. In addition to addressing technical issues – like supply chain bottlenecks and regulations and standards for cutting-edge technology like artificial intelligence – the TTC has proven to be an agile framework which facilitates U.S.-EU cooperation on global issues. To take one example, the connections built through the TTC working group on export control enabled the United States to work swiftly with our EU partners to impose the toughest export control actions in history on Putin and his supporters. And in the trade working group, we’re continuing to cooperate on how we address the trade-distorting policies and practices of non-market economies.

Our efforts in the TTC reflect the deep and abiding partnership between the U.S. and the EU and provide mechanisms to ensure that our technology regulation and competition policies are complementary, and our markets are interconnected.

In closing, let me return to Russia’s war against Ukraine. It is clear that Putin’s war of choice has been a strategic blunder that has left Russia weaker and increasingly isolated on the world stage. We are united with Allies and partners to keep pressure on Putin, to provide support for the people of Ukraine – helping them defend their sovereignty and territorial integrity against Russia’s aggression and to provide humanitarian relief to those who have been displaced by this terrible violence. And we will continue to impose severe and unprecedented costs on Russia for its unconscionable war. We will continue to demonstrate our unity and our collective resolve to provide Ukraine what it needs to succeed. And now, I’ll hand it back over to Ned to facilitate questions.

Thanks so much.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Karen. Operator, if you wouldn’t mind repeating the instructions to ask a question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press 1 then 0 on your telephone keypad. You may withdraw your question at any time by repeating the 1-0 command.

MR PRICE: We’ll start with the line of Humeyra Pamuk.

QUESTION: Hello. Thank you for doing this. Just a couple of questions. I’m sure you’ve seen Turkish President Erdogan just said that Turkey cannot support the membership of Sweden and Finland. So I’m just wondering: what’s your reaction to this? Do you think you can persuade Turkey? Do you still think Sweden and Finland’s membership can be processed as quickly as you hoped they would? And I know it’s a couple of questions, but towards the same end: And are you blindsided by this? I mean, did the Turks give you an indication of such an objection beforehand, or is this the first time you hear of this? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: Thanks so much for that question. I, of course, did see that reporting this morning. And let me just start by being clear about the U.S. position on this. We strongly support NATO’s Open Door policy. And actually, I think that it’s important to remember that a fundamental principle the U.S. is defending in terms of its support for Ukraine is the right of every sovereign country to decide its own future foreign and security policy arrangement. So the principle is really important in this particular case.

We respect the political processes that are underway in both Finland and Sweden, and of course a decision on NATO membership is one for those two countries to make. The United States would support a NATO application by Finland and/or Sweden should they choose to apply. So I just want to be clear about where the U.S. is on this.

In terms of the comments that President Erdoğan has made, we’re working to clarify Turkey’s position. And I won’t be sharing that in this call, but of course, all NATO members will be together at NATO’s Foreign Ministerial over the weekend. And as I mentioned in my opening comments, the Swedish and Finnish foreign ministers will be there as well. So certainly this will be a conversation that will continue over the weekend. Thanks so much.

MR PRICE: We’ll go to Shaun Tandon, please.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) call. Could I briefly follow up on Humeyra’s question? You were mentioning that, of course, the – this will come up on Sunday. Do you expect to meet with Turkey on Sunday? Do you expect to have – and do you expect to seek any type of assurance that they won’t block this process on NATO?

Maybe if I could just ask something slightly broader as well from the NATO talks – the statement yesterday and what you said – just read now, talking about Strategic Concept. At the beginning of the Biden administration, there was a lot of talk about NATO looking a little bit more east on China, et cetera. Do you expect that to be part of this Strategic Concept, or do you think the war in Ukraine has changed that focus a little bit? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: Well, thanks so much for both of those questions. On the first, I have no bilateral meetings to announce at this point. As I mentioned, of course, there will be conversations among NATO members, and with the Finnish and Swedish ministers. But surely if there are meetings to announce, we’ll circle back on that.

Your second question about the breadth of what we’ll be covering in the Strategic Concept, again, I just want to be clear that this Strategic Concept is a critical document for NATO, because it will guide the Alliance’s work over the next decade. So we’re working very hard with our other allies to accurately reflect the evolving security environment that we see. So yes, of course Russia’s war against Ukraine informs that document, and we’re making sure that in the Strategic Concept we correctly cast the current and future threats posed by Russia. But we also will be doing that same assessment for the PRC, for China, and we will be considering that strategic environment that includes the PRC.

So I want to affirm that that Strategic Concept will take a broad view of the strategic environment the Alliance finds itself in. And I think that we want to ensure that NATO is ready to meet any challenge in what is a new and more dangerous security environment. So you can look to that document to capture not only the threats posed by Russia, challenges posed by the PRC, but also the threat of terrorism and other transnational challenges like malicious cyber activity and climate change. So do expect it to be a broad document that captures a holistic view of the security environment. Thanks so much.

MR PRICE: We’ll go to Annmarie Hordern.

QUESTION: Thank you so much for doing this. I just want to ask some follow-ups on Turkey’s position this morning. Is there a sense that you’re getting that Turkey’s potentially using this as leverage? Are they seeking something from the United States to win them over? Because clearly the U.S. has a strong support for Finland and Sweden joining NATO. And will the President be calling Erdoğan about this specific topic?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: I’m remembering that I also saw – I believe the Swedish foreign minister has made a statement about this, which I don’t have at my fingertips, but I think it’s also interesting to see how the Swedes and Finns are responding to this. And the NATO accession process is one where every NATO member state will approve and have a ratification process for membership. And I think we will play this through the secretary general of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, who’s been clear in saying that there is strong allied support for a potential application by Finland and Sweden.

And as you know, Finland and Sweden have been valued NATO partners, and I do believe that NATO at 30 – all NATO members – have felt that through the NATO partnership, we all, as NATO Allies, have developed close relationships with Finland and Sweden. They’re thriving democracies. Again, they’ve worked closely with NATO over many years. So I think let’s work to clarify what Turkey’s position is and follow this process through.

MR PRICE: We’ll go to Matt Lee.

(chit-chat)

QUESTION: Okay. Listen, obviously, you can tell from the questions that everything is – the focus, at least for people who are maybe not – the focus of this is Finland and Sweden and NATO accession and Turkey’s opposition. One of the things that Turkish officials have said for their reluctance or resistance to supporting the accession of Finland and Sweden is that they harbor terrorist organizations. Does the administration agree with that? And does the administration – what does the administration think about Turkey’s own role in terms of harboring terrorist organizations such as Hizballah, Hamas? And does the administration believe that Turkey is as democratic as Finland or Sweden? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: Thanks, Matt. So, again, I think it’s important that we here in the Biden administration clarify Turkey’s position. It is not clear to me that Turkey is saying they will oppose Sweden’s application. Again, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, too. We still need to have Sweden put forward a formal application to join NATO, and respect that that is a decision for Sweden to make. I’m not going to get into rating where NATO members are on some spectrum of democracy. What unites NATO members is the fact that we share underlying principles of democracy, and that fundamentally is what unites us in NATO and leads us when we look out at the world to have a similar and shared view of the threats and challenges out there.

Turkey and Sweden have worked very effectively in the NATO context, as Sweden has been a partner of NATO. And, again, I think we here in the United States support a NATO application by Finland and/or Sweden, and we will work together with the other 29 NATO Allies on that process should Finland and Sweden in fact formally choose to apply for NATO membership in the coming days or weeks.

MR PRICE: Time for a couple final questions. We’ll go to Ed Wong.

QUESTION: Hi, I was wondering if you could talk about how you might address China trade issues and technology issues at the Paris meeting.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: Thanks so much. So what excites me about the TTC, and I should say that there is going to be a call, I believe later today, specifically on the TTC, so for folks who want to go deep I can commend that to you.

But let me tell you that for me as the assistant secretary for Europe and Eurasia here at State, I think the TTC is a fantastic vehicle for looking at really what are the issues that are going to be foremost on our agenda in the 21st century, and those are these issues around trade and technology and how do we as democracies work to reduce areas of friction between us on these issues so that we can more effectively meet the challenges coming from outside the transatlantic community.

And there’s no question that there are a whole set of challenges presented by the PRC to the international rules-based order. So I see the TTC as one mechanism for the U.S. and the EU to coordinate our approach specifically on those issues around technology and how do we regulate technology, how do we try to make sure that the PRC’s vision for the rules of the road for the 21st century economy and the way it’s misusing technologies to undermine privacy and threaten human rights – the TTC is a vehicle for helping us coordinate our policies and be more effective in standing up to and meeting that challenge from China.

Through the TTC and, of course, through other senior-level engagement, we’re working closely with the European Union to align our respective approaches to the PRC and to converge on a common approach. Other examples of this would be the U.S.-EU Dialogue on China that just met last month, and that dialogue is led by Deputy Secretary Sherman and her counterpart in the European External Action Service, Secretary General Sannino.

So I think you look at the TTC, you look at the U.S.-EU Dialogue on China, and we’re creating these different fora to discuss a shared approach. And I would say that if you look at the working groups that we’ve created in the TTC, about half of them deal with different facets of these issues. So definitely that challenge posed by the PRC is something that we are very focused on in the TTC. Thank you.

MR PRICE: Let’s go to Paolo Mastrolilli.

QUESTION: Thank you very much for doing the briefing. After the Tuesday meeting with President Biden, the Italian Prime Minister Draghi said, and I quote, “We agree that we must continue to support Ukraine and put pressure on Moscow, but also begin to ask how to build peace.” And then he added that it would be essential for the United States to talk directly with Russia. I would like to ask you if you have a comment on that, if you share this view that it is also the moment to start thinking about how to build peace.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: Thank you very much for that question, and I will say that I had the distinct privilege of participating in President Biden’s meeting with Prime Minister Draghi. And it was really terrific to see the real unity between our two leaders on Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine, and it was just terrific to see how closely Italy and the United States are working across a whole range of issues.

On your specific comment about whether this is the moment for diplomacy, I think it is clear that Putin has not been able to accomplish the objectives he laid out before Russia invaded, its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Russia has failed to overthrow the Ukrainian Government, Russia lost the battle for Kyiv, and we’ve seen now Russia retreat and refocus its forces on Ukraine’s southeast.

Russia has also failed to divide the United States from our allies and partners. We believe deeply that diplomacy is the only way to end this conflict, but Russia has shown no signs that it’s willing to seriously engage in negotiation. And we talk very regularly with our Ukrainian partners about this as well, and their assessment is a similar one.

So our focus today is on strengthening Ukraine’s hand as much as possible on the battlefield, so that when the time does come Ukraine has as much leverage as possible at the negotiating table. So I want to be very clear that we want to see this war end as soon as possible while supporting Ukraine’s success so that those negotiations happen on Ukraine’s terms. So that is how we are thinking about the state of play currently, and that issue of ending the war, I want to be clear: There is one person who can end that war today, and it is Vladimir Putin, and we call on him to do so.

MR PRICE: We’ll go to John Hudson.

QUESTION: Hey, thanks very much. Can we get a comment on the extension of pretrial detention by one month for Brittney Griner? And also wanted – just sort of a status update. I also wanted to just ask is the dispute over NATO, do you feel like that might take away over the focus on Ukraine for this upcoming meeting?

MR PRICE: John, I can chime in on the Brittney Griner case. As you know, we have made the assessment that she is wrongfully detained. We – of course, we’re monitoring very closely this morning’s court hearing in Moscow. I can confirm that a consular officer at our embassy in Moscow was able to speak to her. On the margins of the hearing, the officer was able to confirm that Brittney Griner is doing as well as can be expected under what can only be described as exceedingly difficult circumstances.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: And I’m happy to jump in on your second question. Let me start by saying again that we concur with NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg that there is strong Allied support for a potential application by Finland and/or Sweden. I don’t think that this issue of Erdoğan’s recent comments in any way is going to take over the conversation at the NATO Foreign Ministerial. And I want to be clear that there is deep unity across NATO. Every Ally is in the same place in terms of condemning Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, demanding Russia withdraw, and providing assistance to Ukraine so that it can be as strong as possible in pushing back against this Russian invasion.

And I think a really important element of this desire we are seeing in Finland and Sweden to, it seems, formally apply for NATO membership is it’s another piece of evidence about the strategic miscalculation Putin made with this full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Finland has managed, I would say with extraordinary care, its relationship with Russia over time. It’s been a NATO partner. If you had asked me six months ago, “Karen, do you think during your tenure as assistant secretary, Finland and Sweden might apply for NATO membership,” I would have said no.

Finland literally within a day of February 24 made a decision that its security environment had changed fundamentally. Finland has an 830-mile border with Russia. Vladimir Putin before this war began said: one of the reasons I have to go to war against Ukraine is to push back on NATO’s encroachment on Russia’s borders. Well, my goodness. If that was what he was after, think about the position he finds himself in today.

So I am really struck by also how Putin has miscalculated strategically in terms of the security environment that is flowing from Russia’s decision to make this full invasion of Ukraine on February 24. So thanks very much.

MR PRICE: We’ll take one final question from Will Mauldin.

QUESTION: Hey, thanks so much. Can you hear me?

MR PRICE: We can.

QUESTION: Okay, great. Just a double one if you don’t mind. I wanted to ask, first of all, on Russia’s blockade of Ukraine and it can’t get commodity exports, including food and grain, out very easily. I’m wondering if that is something that the NATO meetings or some of the other gatherings the Secretary is doing will be focused on and what the U.S. view of alleviating that would be.

And then also, I see that the EU’s Borrell says that the Iran talks have been unblocked, so an issue sort of related to Europe, Eurasia – wondering if that means that there could be a final deal and that the U.S. would take the Revolutionary Guards off the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Thanks.

MR PRICE: Will, I can start with your second question. We do think the EU has done important work restarting the conversation after several weeks of unhelpful delay. As you know, the Deputy Secretary General Enrique Mora has been conveying messages back and forth. We look forward to a more detailed conversation with the deputy secretary general after his visit.

All of that said, at this point, as you’ve heard us say before, a deal remains far from certain. We are preparing equally for scenarios in which we have a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA and in which we do not. It is up to Iran to decide whether it wants to conclude a deal quickly. We believe a mutual return to compliance would serve all sides’ interests, including, importantly – most importantly for us – U.S. national security interests. We and our partners are ready. We have been for some time, but now it’s really up to Iran.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: And I’m happy to jump in on your first question, which fundamentally relates to this issue of food insecurity. And just to set the stage, Russia and Ukraine are two of the world’s most significant exporters of agricultural commodities and fertilizer, and we want to be clear in saying Putin’s brutal war against Ukraine is making it extremely difficult – as you noted – for Ukraine to get its winter harvest out of Ukraine. And that is creating a crisis around food supplies in much of the developing world.

And I want to be clear that the blame for this rests with Vladimir Putin. You’ve got Ukrainian farmers who would be planting fields right now that help feed the world, and instead, they have to take up arms to defend their homeland. You’ve seen Putin’s war destroy roads, railways, and rail stations in Ukraine that would have facilitated the overland transportation. And, of course, Russia is blocking Ukraine’s seaports. Ukraine’s foreign minister has told his counterparts in Russia that they are actively targeting grain silos and food storage facilities.

So your question is spot-on, and we here at the State Department, with other partners in the interagency, are focused very heavily on how we get the grain out of Ukraine to the rest of the world, along with the other dimensions of the problem. And I want to highlight that the United States holds the presidency of the UN Security Council in this month of May, and our focus is this issue of food insecurity, because we want to make sure that global attention is focused on this issue.

And Secretary Blinken will be in New York next week. He will be hosting a ministerial focused on this topic. He also will be championing a discussion in the UN Security Council on this. So we want to put a spotlight on this issue and galvanize support within the UN to move forward on this and find a solution that allows us, in the first instance, to get that grain out of Ukraine and to those countries who need it. Thanks so much.

MR PRICE: Well, thank you very much, Assistant Secretary Donfried. Thank you very much, everyone, for tuning in. Just a reminder, this call was on the record, and the embargo is now lifted.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: Ned, thanks so much for organizing, and so appreciate all of you joining us for this call.

MR PRICE: Thanks, everyone.

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