The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

Conference Call Briefing with Administration Officials on President Medvedev's Visit to the White House

Via Conference Call


June 22, 2010
7:07 P.M. EDT

MR. VIETOR:  Hi, everyone.  Thanks for jumping on.  I know it’s late.  We will get going quickly.  On the line you have Mike McFaul, who is Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Russia and Central Asian Affairs.  You also have Ben Rhodes, who is the Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications. 

We wanted to get everybody on the line tonight to talk a little bit -- to preview the visit of President Medvedev of the Russian Federation to the White House on Thursday, June 24th.

We do not anticipate talking about a host of other issues.  If you have questions on other issues please shoot me an email.  I'm happy to talk to you about them, but this call tonight is about Russia.

So with that, I'm going to turn it over to Ben Rhodes.

MR. RHODES:  Great, thanks, everybody, for joining the call at this hour.  We just wanted to give you a bit of a preview of the upcoming visit of President Medvedev to Washington.  He’s actually already in the United States.  And Mike can speak a little bit to what he’s doing now, but we'll just kind of give you some overarching points here.

First of all, I think that we believe that this visit takes place at a new phase in U.S.-Russia relations.  We believe it comes after a period when we've made very substantial progress in resetting the U.S.-Russia relationship and making concrete progress on a number of very important and substantive areas.

When the President took office, it was his view -- and President Medvedev’s view -- that U.S.-Russia relations had really drifted in recent years and that we were no longer cooperating on areas of mutual interests, and that that was harming both of our interests, frankly.  And the President’s assessment was that when you stacked up America’s leading national security priorities -- whether it was nonproliferation, Iran, North Korea, terrorism, Afghanistan -- we had both much to gain from cooperating with Russia and we shared common interests with Russia that indicated that our lack of cooperation was not necessary.

So he set out in a very deliberate and aggressive way to make this a top foreign policy priority for the administration in his first months in office -- to reset this relationship. 

And he and President Medvedev have met -- this will be their seventh meeting and they’ve spoken on the phone scores of times. They met the first time at the London G20 conference.  President Obama visited Moscow in July of last year.  And this is a reciprocal visit for that visit.  The President made clear when he was in Moscow that he wanted to host President and Mrs. Medvedev here in Washington.  They met on the margins of the U.N. General Assembly.  They met in Singapore.  Then they met in Copenhagen.  And then they of course met in Prague to sign the New START Treaty.

I think that as much as any other relationship that we’ve had, the U.S.-Russia relationship is one where we can point to a number of very significant results on areas, again, of core national security interest to the United States.  The United States and Russia are cooperating on Afghanistan, where Russia has agreed to facilitate our northern distribution network, which allows us to transit troops and supplies through Russia on their way to Afghanistan, which has significantly improved our ability to move (inaudible) resources into Afghanistan, including the additional resources that the President has ordered into Afghanistan as part of his strategy.

We had strong Russian support for the U.N. Security Council resolution on North Korea that passed last year, which is the toughest resolution to date on sanctioning North Korea’s proliferation activities, and we’ve had very strong Russian support in enforcing that resolution as well.

Of course, in nonproliferation, we have cooperated very closely with Russia, including reaching agreement on and signing the landmark New START Treaty, which allows and enables reductions in our nuclear stockpiles and launchers; demonstrates America and Russia’s commitment to keep our nonproliferation treaty obligations; and facilitates greater cooperation between our two countries as it relates to reducing our own arsenals and pressing for reductions abroad and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons, of course.

We had very strong Russian support at the President’s Nuclear Security Summit here last April, including a number of very positive and constructive announcements by Russia as it relates to steps that they're going to take to help reach the goal that the President has set to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world in four years. 

And of course, most recently, Russia joined the United States in the U.N. Security Council resolution that passed the toughest sanctions to date on Iran for its failure to live up to its international obligations as it relates to its nuclear program.

So when you really stack up the leading national security priorities for this administration -- again, nonproliferation, Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea -- this is a relationship that has worked.  This is a relationship that has achieved real results.  And I think that the President believes that that's in large part to the positive relationship that he’s forged with President Medvedev and the leadership that President Medvedev has shown on these issues.

The two of them both believe very strongly that, again, the United States and Russia, while having a complicated history, share mutual interests and we can serve our own national security by working together. 

Now, this visit comes at a time I think when we moved beyond a lot of issues I discussed.  We’ve closed out some accounts, but, of course, we’ll continue consultations on all of these issues because we’ll continue to work with Russia on all them, as well.  So you’ll see continued consultations on these political and security challenges that I’ve outlined. 

I think, however, both Presidents feel strongly that there’s great potential in the U.S.-Russia relationship that extends beyond some of these flashpoint issues.  And that’s why the two of them have decided to underscore the potential, really, of deepening the economic relationship between the United States and Russia, including a focus on areas of cooperation related to investment, innovation and, again, deepening our economic relationship.

In many ways it, frankly, represents the normalization of our relations with Russia that has taken place as we have reset the relationship and, again, enabled ourselves to address a broader agenda than was the case right off the bat.

I’ll just walk through the schedule quickly, and then Mike can make some comments and then we’ll take your questions. 

On Thursday, in the morning, the President will begin with a meeting between him and President Medvedev.  They’ll host a bilateral meeting with a smaller group, and then have an expanded bilateral meeting with their national security teams.  Then the two Presidents will have lunch together, and following lunch they will have a press conference here at the East Room of the White House.

Following that press conference, they will attend an event here at the Chamber of Commerce in Washington, which will be comprised of a group of U.S. and Russian business leaders.  And so this event, again, will help build upon the progress we’ve made in deepening economic ties between the United States and Russia.  And Mike can speak to this a little bit.

And then the only other thing I’d add is that the First Lady is going to be hosting Mrs. Medvedev at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts here in Washington, D.C.  It’s a public high school here in Washington that provides both professional arts training and college preparation.  Students from Duke Ellington will perform a dance and musical program for the two First Ladies.  And this visit to the Duke Ellington School is, again, something that Mrs. Obama wanted to do because of how much she appreciated being hosted at a performance in Russia that included a dance company -- the Moiseyev Dance Company -- in Moscow.  So the First Lady wanted to return the hospitality and show off the extraordinary talent of some Washington, D.C. students.

So with that, I’ll hand it over to Mike who can say a few words about the visit and the relationship, and then we’ll take your questions.

MR. McFAUL:  Thanks, Ben.  I don't have much to add.  I think Ben has covered a lot of terrain.  Maybe just one comment on the philosophy behind the reset and a little bit about President Medvedev’s trip to California. 

Again, to underscore what Ben has already said, when we came to office, we noticed the dangerous drift in this relationship where not much was going on, a lot of animosity, obviously, punctuated by the Russian invasion of Georgia in the fall of 2008.  But when we took a step back and thought about what is in America’s national interests and what are our core security threats and concerns coming into the Obama administration, and then how Russia might interact with those, we, again, saw more commonality than differences. 

And as President Obama has said from the very first meeting he had with President Medvedev in London last April, we’re looking for win-win outcomes, outcomes that enhance the security of the United States and also that enhance the security of Russia, and trying to get out of the mindset of zero-sum thinking, that if it’s good for Russia, it has to be bad for the United States and vice-versa.

And I think the list that Ben walked you through is the demonstration of translating the rhetoric and the symbolism of the reset into really very concrete outcomes.  And I would just add these are not kind of peripheral concerns for the United States and the Obama administration; these are the central, core security dilemmas, problems, threats and opportunities that we are facing today.

I would add to the list the most recent one that we are tackling in a similar spirit is what’s happening, the tragedy in Kyrgyzstan, where maybe two or three years ago, and most certainly, 30 years ago, this would have been framed in some kind of competition between Russia and the United States, or the Soviet Union and the United States.  On this particular tragedy, both our diplomatic and humanitarian efforts are coordinated very closely as we seek common diplomatic and humanitarian actions, rather than competitive ones.

On the foundation that I think we have now established, on these core security concerns, we now hope -- as Ben said -- to develop relations along other dimensions, along new dimensions in the relationship. 

President Obama also said this at the very beginning -- he does not want U.S.-Russia relations to be just about arms control.  And I think we’ve already achieved that in cooperating on some very difficult issues like Iran, North Korea, nonproliferation.  But this meeting coming on Thursday, we’re going to really dig into -- deeper into a lot of these other dimensions.

The very fact that Medvedev is starting his trip to the United States not in Washington in a traditional summit like U.S.-Soviet summit, but is landing shortly, I believe, in California to go to the Silicon Valley to explore some of the most innovative companies that we have in the United States, to meet with Russian speakers and Russian citizens and Russian speakers -- a meeting I think he’ll be having in California -- and then give his talk at Stanford before -- all before he comes to meet with President Medvedev [sic] we think is a very good sign, is a very good demonstration that we can develop in these other dimensions.

And when the two Presidents meet, we will talk about many things.  We’ll talk about many of the dimensions that we have set up -- non-security issues that -- under the auspices of the Bilateral President Commission.  This includes everything from sports to health to civil society.  And we will be releasing the first report -- the first annual report of that bilateral commission on Thursday. 

We will spend a good deal of time talking about President Medvedev’s agenda for innovation.  We see this as a win-win in terms of cooperating on this.  We’ve done a number of things already on this set of issues.  For instance, we’ve met with Russian government officials to talk about open government, something President Obama cares dearly about in our own government.  We sent our experts to Moscow, to other places where Russian officials have been, and we’ll be announcing a new initiative on that on Thursday.

And then, just finally, the very notion of innovation in general -- we believe that innovation in government, innovation in governance, innovation in business, and innovation in civil society are all dimensions of innovation that we want to support, and we expect that that will be a big part of the conversation on Thursday.

The last thing I would mention is that the reset is not just about government-to-government relations.  We believe very strongly in what we call dual-track engagement and enhancing connectivity between our business leaders in Russia and in America, and also our civil society leaders in Russia and the United States.  And, therefore, we’re pleased that, as we did in Moscow when we went to Moscow, we had parallel meetings that went on between business leaders on the one hand and civil society leaders, that also will happen here during President Medvedev’s visit here in  -- well, it’s happening tonight in San Francisco. It will happen again tomorrow in the Silicon Valley.  It will happen again on campus in Stanford.  And then Thursday, all of these things will be in motion at the same time. 

And we believe strongly that that is also part of the reset. As we seek to enhance a more substantive relationship with the Russia government, we also want to encourage interaction between our business and civil society leaders as well.

MR. RHODES:  Great.  Thanks, Mike.  With that, we’ll be happy to take any of your questions.

Q    Gentlemen, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us this evening.  My question is for Director McFaul. You said last week that ending the Russian occupation of disputed territories inside Georgia was a major objective of the Obama administration.  It’s also been said by officials that this will be raised in Obama’s meeting with President Medvedev.  I’m wondering if you can explain for us in detail how this will be raised, what the message to President Medvedev will be on Georgia, and what is the policy for achieving this objective going forward?

MR. McFAUL:  Well, as we’ve said many times -- the President, the Vice President, Secretary Clinton, and other officials -- we do have a fundamental disagreement with the Russian government about the definition of the borders of the Georgian state.  We consider their occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to be illegitimate.  And this is not -- this is a position shared widely by the international community.  And we’ll discuss this issue most certainly, as we have in almost every one of those meetings that Ben mentioned we do. 

In addition to having a discussion and an argument, I would say, a disagreement about this occupation of these territories, we also have an interest in stability in the region, reducing tensions, expanding monitors, expanding transparency about what Russia is doing in these territories.  And we’re perfectly happy to expand their understanding of what we are doing in terms of our cooperation with the Georgian government.  And that is a subject that we fully expect to have when President Medvedev gets here on Thursday.

MR. RHODES:  I would only add to what Mike said that we -- again, we’ve consistently underscored the fact that we have a difference on this issue, and we also fully support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all of Russia’s neighbors and will continue to do so. 

I think we have a fundamental theory of the case as it relates to our relationship with Russia and to stability in the region more broadly, which is that even as we have differences, we can cooperate on areas of mutual concern, and of course the flip side of that is even where we cooperate on areas of mutual concern, we don’t paper over our differences either.  And that’s I think, frankly, the nature of a healthy and candid relationship between the two Presidents and between our two countries.

Similarly, we believe strongly that a good relationship between the United States and Russia helps advance security in Eastern Europe more broadly, and that it’s in the interests of the region for us to be able to have positive communication around these set of issues and have an open dialogue to -- frankly, to help prevent any misunderstanding.

And so I think the track record bears that out, that we’ve been able to deal with these issues candidly with one another in a way that makes it clear where we stand but also that can serve the broader interests of stability in the region.

Q    Thank you.  And just as a very quick follow-up -- I understand both points that this is a fundamental disagreement, it’s been very clear -- and also that there are things to be achieved in the relationship while we have this fundamental disagreement.  My quick follow-up question is, if there is a strategy to achieve progress in reversing the Russian occupation of Georgia, what is it?  What are the details of what we’re doing besides just expressing the fact that we object to this occupation?

MR. RHODES:  Well, Mike may want to chime in, but, look, I’d just take us back to core principles here.  First of all, we have a very close relationship with the Georgian government.  We’re in close contact with them and we’ve continued, of course, certain assistance programs for Georgia. 

Secondly, we think that having the dialogue is in the interest -- in the ultimate interest of resolving these disagreements; that we in the international community, frankly, need to work on a very persistent basis to pursue solutions to these problems.

And so having these discussions allows us to increase transparency, allows us to make clear things that we’re concerned about and to, again, as Mike said, understand better the Russian position and to have them understand better our position.  And we do this of course in close coordination with the Georgians and the international community.

I don’t know, Mike, if you have anything to add to that.

MR. McFAUL:  A couple of things I would echo.  Yes, we have a robust relationship with the government of Georgia.  We have a very robust assistance program to Georgia.  GDP per capita, it’s got to be one of the highest in the world.  We continue to talk with the Russians about enhancing transparency, the incident prevention mechanisms that we want the South Ossetians to use -- we’ll discuss that again.  We are talking more broadly about European security issues with the Russians, as Ben has talked about.  And I guess the way one needs to ask -- and we have a long-term goal of trying to end the Russian occupation of those two territories.  That is our goal.

I guess the question is, is Georgia and is the rest of Europe more secure today than they were -- than Europe was when we first got here?  And I think our answer is yes.  I think we have made our new allies in Europe feel more secure through some of our initiatives that we’ve done in NATO.  We have now introduced a missile defense program that will provide protection for all of Europe and for all of our allies, not just some of them -- a real improvement on what we inherited. 

And if you look at attitudes in terms of security, what Georgians have said -- and what Russians say, too, by the way -- a Pew poll just came out I think two years ago; a majority, I think it was 24 percent -- Josh, I can send you the link to this if you want to get it precisely -- 24 percent had a good, positive attitude about NATO.  That number has jumped up to 40 percent in the year 2010.  We think that that’s evidence that if you have a substantive dialogue with Russia about security issues, even difficult ones, as Ben said, that can improve the security for the United States, for Russia, and our allies in Europe and partners in Europe.

MR. RHODES:  I might add just on the Pew thing, an interesting data point on that was that one of the most dramatic increases in favorability ratings of the United States in foreign countries over the course of the last year has been in Russia.  It went from dipping well below 50 percent in the latter years of the previous administration to I believe up to 54 percent in the latest Pew data.  So that the positive relationships between the two Presidents is also accompanied by a positive attitude towards the United States and our leadership within Russia.

Q    Thank you very much, indeed.  I have two questions, probably for Michael McFaul.  First I just wanted to ask you to expand a bit on your comments about Kyrgyzstan.  I mean, to what extend would you say that there is now perhaps harmony of interest between the U.S. and Russia?  Does that extend to the Russians actually no longer resisting the Manas base -- would you say they’re comfortable with the Manas base continuing to operate?

And secondly, if I may, what do you make of the argument that some people say that the administration should find a way to work more with Mr. Putin?  Obviously the President has invested a lot in the relationship with Mr. Obama, but given that Mr. Putin is a player in Russia, should the administration look for ways to focus on doing business with him as well?  People say that, for example, if there were tougher sanctions on Iran to go ahead, that would (inaudible) safer.  Thank you.

MR. McFAUL:  Well, on the first question on Kyrgyzstan, again, from the very first meeting in London last year, we've had a discussion with President Medvedev about this issue, and in particular, trying to get away from the 19th century notion of the Great Game or the 20th century notion of the Cold War, where things are framed in zero-sum terms, and instead making the argument that the Manas transit center is transiting our women and men who are on their way to Afghanistan, who are going to fight extremist forces that Russians, well before we were involved in this conflict, said was a threat to them.  And how, therefore, is that not in Russia’s national interest?

And I think you should ask the Russian government officials how they think of the transit center and our relations in Kyrgyzstan.  I'd just note that the transit center is working, and we think that we have a common understanding with the Russians, and of course, most importantly, the provisional government in Kyrgyzstan.

Second, I just want to underscore for us, right now the most important issue about Kyrgyzstan is not the transit center.  It’s of course, the tragedy of the ethnic violence that we've seen in southern Kyrgyzstan.  And there, in Bishkek, in Moscow, in Washington, and up at the United Nations in New York, we are in very close contact with our Russian counterparts trying to figure out ways to help to most immediately bring humanitarian assistance on both sides of the border; and secondly, thinking about possibilities to help to prevent this kind of violence in the future.

On your second question I would just say this:  We do not have a policy to support one person over the other.  There’s one President in Russia; we deal with him.  Though when President Obama was in Moscow, we also paid a visit to Prime Minister Putin -- had a very interesting -- I think it was a two-and-a-half-hour conversation with Prime Minister Putin.  Secretary Clinton, when she was in Moscow just recently also saw Prime Minister Putin. 

As a normal course of diplomatic events, if you listen to that list of places that Ben articulated, those are places that the heads of state are at and Prime Minister Putin is not there. Having said that, I have to tell you that we do not see a difference in policy between Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev.  During the very difficult and important negotiations over the New START Treaty, we got the sense that they had their interagency process and it moved along in fits and starts, but we got the deal that we did at the end.  That was a win for Russia and a win for the United States, as President Medvedev himself announced in Prague -- in English, by the way -- he used that phrase, win-win outcome, that he learned from President Obama.

Second, you mentioned sanctions.  We’re very happy with the outcome of that sanctions resolution.  Again, limits on arms that have never been in sanctions before -- and let’s just be very candid, those are sets of sanctions that hurt Russian companies a lot more than obviously countries like ourselves that don't trade in arms with Iran.  And I would just note that it was Prime Minister Putin who said, expressing vigilance in U.N. Security Council 1929, announced that they would not be delivering S-300s, a sign for us -- we think a very healthy sign for enhancing stability in the Middle East.  And we again -- underscore -- we don't see a difference between those two gentlemen in terms of Russia foreign policy.

MR. RHODES:  I’d just -- the only thing I’d add to the second question is the point that President Obama himself made, which is we recognize there’s often interest in this question; President Obama has had dealings with President Medvedev in bilateral meetings, in telephone conversations, about really the most core national security interest of both of our countries.  And both leaders have had to make tough calls in those consultations.  And every single time President Medvedev has made a commitment to President Obama or said he was going to get something done, or disagreed with President Obama and said this is where my government stands -- every single time, he’s delivered on those commitments. 

So President Obama’s view is that President Medvedev has been an extraordinarily capable and reliable interlocutor as the leader of his government and has proven time and again on a very broad range of issues that he’s somebody who can really deliver.

Next question.

Q    Thanks, this is double-barreled.  Are you going to be discussing the Bushehr project in Iran, and also Russia investments in the oil and gas sector in Iran, particularly in light of Prime Minister Putin’s remarks in Istanbul?

MR. McFAUL:  What we discuss -- I don't know if Bushehr will come up.  I don't expect it to because it’s not covered in the sanctions resolution. 

On Russia investments in oil and gas, I remind you that -- I did see what Prime Minister Putin said.  I also have seen what Lukoil has said about -- thinking about the situation there, deciding not to pursue other investments that they had planned.  But we’ll discuss the full range of issues related to Iran and the forthcoming other sets of sanctions that we will be doing and coordinating with our allies and partners.

Q    Yes, hi, good evening.  Thank you for having the call. I was just wondering, there’s been a history of personal relationships -- and I’m speaking of between both U.S. and Soviet and then Russian leaders -- to Reagan-Gorbachev, Mr. Clinton and Yeltsin.  I was wondering how you would describe the personal relationship between President Obama and President Medvedev -- in their body language and reciprocal phrase that there was a connection?  And would you go as far as thinking about the friendship developing or even a honeymoon going on?

MR. RHODES:  Well, I’ll say a few words, and then Mike, who has spent a lot of time in all these meetings, can chime in.  I’ll say first of all, stepping back from a broad standpoint, we believe that the personal relationship is extraordinarily important, but we also believe that very deep relationships between and among our governments are very important, as well.  So that's why, even as they’ve pursued this relationship, Secretary Clinton, Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen, General Jones -- our broad National Security team has been very involved and engaged with their Russian counterparts -- Susan Rice up at the U.N. 

Similarly, as Mike said, we have this Bilateral Presidential Commission which focuses on -- what -- 13 -- 16 different issues, again, ranging from economic issues to cultural issues, to foster connections among our government.  And finally, we’re trying to use this visit in particular to spur people-to-people exchanges, business ties, increased investment in the Russian economy in a way that will be mutually beneficial.  So I just say all that as a preface.

Now, in terms of their personal relationship, I think it is an exceptionally strong and close relationship the two Presidents have been able to forge.  I think that they’ve had to deal with very hard issues that are very important to their respective national security.  And when you do that, you get to take the measure of the person you’re dealing with.

I think they’ve both often made light of the fact that their background is as lawyers, and that, frankly, they’ve had to negotiate some of these agreements themselves.  And this is not a slight at Mike, who is an exceptional -- a really exceptional member of the President’s team, but at a certain point these issues have literally been hammered out by the two Presidents on the phone or in person, whether it was Iran sanctions or the New START Treaty.  So they have joked about that. 

They’ve made reference to the fact that they're both, again, people of legal backgrounds, that they have an ability to get things done with each other in a way that advances the ball.  Oftentimes, when Presidents interact, everything is already teed up and finished.  With these guys, they’ve actually rolled up their sleeves together and hammered out the details of some of these things, I think, which again, speaks to their respect for each other.  They're both pragmatic and focused people, again, who share a somewhat similar backgrounds in terms of their legal practice.

But Mike may want to say a few words.

MR. McFAUL:  Just a couple things.  I think Ben is absolutely right.  To underscore, when we first -- even well in the transition, and most certainly in the beginning weeks and months of the Obama administration, we very deliberately said we want to establish a substantive relationship with the Russia government based on substance -- not happy, not good, not improving, but the theory was if we worked on real issues that were good for the American people and good for the Russian people, that would then improve the relationship -- not the other way around, which has sometimes been experimented with in some of those previous relationships you talked about.

And I think with the record of achievement on -- real substance on hard things -- I think that's important -- hard things, not the easy things, hard things -- that then creates these better atmospherics.

Second, when you do these hard things together, as Ben described -- and some of these phone calls have been 84 minutes, 90 minutes long, where the two Presidents themselves -- particularly on the New START Treaty and on the U.N. Security Council resolution -- were working very complex levels of details that they got into, you develop a rapport from that because, as Ben said, there’s a give, there’s a take.

Some of these have been tough conversations.  I don't want to describe them otherwise.  Some of them have been very tough.  But they’ve all -- as a result of doing tough work together, that's how you develop this rapport.

And then the final thing, I really do want to underscore what Ben said -- we very deliberately wanted to establish many channels of communication between our governments.  That's why we established the Bilateral Commission.  That's why General Jones is involved in meetings with several of his interlocutors.  That's why Secretary Clinton and Secretary Gates -- Admiral Mullen has a very important channel.  But it goes all the way down at much lower levels and throughout the interagency; we want just to have more connectivity because we want to establish a more -- firmer foundation for U.S.-Russian relations.

Q    Hi, thank you for taking my question last.  So in regards to the trip to Silicon Valley, the Russians still consider very much Putin as the more powerful politician, and he’s also been known to be the more anti-Western of the two.  That being said, what happens when Medvedev comes back and wants to model a more Western-style innovative economy?  Who is going to be calling the shots here?

MR. McFAUL:  Well, again, I would say we just don't -- who is calling the shots?  The innovation program that Medvedev has launched, for instance, is called Skolkova.  Prime Minister Putin is also deeply involved in that.  I think there’s a new assessment within the Russian government that to make it in the 21st century, you need real innovation.  You have to invest in brains -- not just oil and gas.  And on that fundamental question, maybe there was a debate about that several years ago within the Russian government, but I don't think it’s a serious debate right now.  I think they're moving both in a positive direction.

Whether they achieve it or not, of course, that's for others to judge.  But for us as the Obama administration, we want to be supportive of that because we think that Russian investments in high-tech firms, first-rate universities, entrepreneurship, innovation -- that offers opportunities for us in terms of our prosperity and our common interests with Russia.  So we see that as a win-win and we’re trying to do what we can to support that.

MR. RHODES:  I’d only add to what Mike said a few points, and it’s a good one to conclude on, actually.  I think that, first of all, President Obama has great respect for what President Medvedev is trying to accomplish with regard to innovation and reform within the Russian economy.  I think that he sees it as something that will have the potential to unleash growth for Russia and open the doors to a mutually beneficial economic relationship. 

And, frankly, for starters, we expect there to be announcements even on this trip about opportunities for increased business ties and the kinds of investments that will lead to American exports and create American jobs.  So this is the beginning -- again, I want to -- the beginning, because we feel the issues have been neglected for some time.  But these conversations about economic cooperation I think we see as the first step in a longer journey towards significantly increasing and deepening the economic relationship between our countries.

The second thing I’d say is that President Medvedev has been outspoken in certain instances about some of the reforms that need to be taken within Russia to strengthen the rule of law as it relates to business and civil society.  And again, we believe that that's very much in Russia’s interest, and again, in the interest of everyone who does business in Russia, as well.  It can facilitate -- it facilitates fair competition and increased opportunity for the Russian people and for people who are doing business in Russia.

So we believe, as Mike used the phrase several times -- we believe that a Russian economy that is growing, that is innovative, that continues down the road of reform, is a win-win, because it will add -- it will lead to greater economic growth in Russia (inaudible) for people in Russia, which we know President Medvedev is deeply committed to, and it will also open the doors to greater cooperation with the United States, deeper economic ties that can, again, help support the growth of our economy and our exports as well.

So this is an underdeveloped part of the relationship.  And the reason that we’re emphasizing it on this trip is that we’ll talk about Iran, we’ll talk about Afghanistan, we’ll talk about a range of security issues that you would expect the United States and Russia to talk about -- but we very deliberately wanted to broaden the agenda to these economic issues because we believe that there’s growth potential here.  Our interests are aligned with, as you said, President Medvedev’s agenda to support innovation and economic growth in Russia.

So we’re very pleased he’s in Silicon Valley, which is in many ways part of American innovation -- fiber for job creation here and a model for (inaudible).  And we believe that the two Presidents can build on that and launch our two countries down a road to greater economic cooperation.

Mike may want to say one more thing.

MR. McFAUL:  Just one last thing, just -- Ben reminded me of this and I think it’s important to remind everybody on this call as we come into this trip of how unique a moment this is and a unique trip it is.  This is not the Cold War, this is not the 19th century.  And let me tell you an anecdote and then explain it.  I had this surreal experience here at the White House a couple weeks ago, maybe three or four weeks ago by now, where we had in to see the President Russian basketball players.  They came in; the President shot some hoops with them, and we talked about how these kind of (inaudible) and not just Iran sanctions and nuclear weapons but the kind of -- the intimate conversation that the President could have with these young basketball players about LeBron and Kobe and Kereyenko was another facet of U.S.-Russia relations that we sometimes forget about -- and then got on a plane, flew to Moscow, and went to President Medvedev’s house, where we had two dozen venture capitalists from the Silicon Valley talking about how -- seeking high-tech investment possibilities in Russia. 

These are things that just simply didn’t happen before, and we want these things to be part of the U.S.-Russia relationship. And with that goes all the things that Ben said, to make it happen in a real way.  It can’t just be economic modernization.  We believe very strongly that President Medvedev is right -- it has to be political modernization as well.  We fully expect this will be part of the conversation.

But the general notion here is that this is not just a relationship focused on arms control.  There are lots of dimensions to it.  And we hope that the structure of President Medvedev’s trip and the substance of what we’ll do with him when he gets here on Thursday will underscore that fact.

MR. VIETOR:  Very well.  Thanks, everybody.  Appreciate you joining the call.  I hope this helps you as you’re setting up the trip or planning your coverage.  We’ll be around to answer any inquiries, and Thursday of course we’ll have a press conference, and we’ll have various announcements to make and some paper to send out to you guys.  So appreciate you joining and hope you have a good night.

7:52 P.M. EDT

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