Remarks by Senior Administration Officials in a Conference Call on the Vice President's Trip to Belgium and Germany
11:05 A.M. EST
MR. SPECTOR: Hey, everybody. Thank you for joining today’s call. We appreciate your time.
As you know, the Vice President will travel to Brussels, Belgium and Munich, Germany starting tomorrow, Thursday, February 5th through Sunday, February 8th. So this call is to inform you about the trip and answer a few questions that you might have.
This call is going to be on background from senior administration officials. And with that, I’d like to turn it over to our first senior administration official.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great, thank you very much. And thanks, everyone, for joining the call. I think it would make sense for us just to introduce ourselves by name at the beginning just so you know who is on the call, but, of course, this call will be on background from a senior administration official.
So I will just at the top here briefly walk through the agenda, the schedule for the trip and a little bit about what we're hoping to accomplish and then turn it to my colleagues to take your questions.
So the Vice President is going to be departing tomorrow on Thursday, February 5th for a three- to four-day trip to Brussels, Belgium and Munich, Germany.
In Brussels on Friday, the Vice President will meet with the full range of European leaders, including the European Parliament President, Martin Schulz; the Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament, which consists of the heads of the main political groupings in the European Parliament, the European Council President Donald Tusk; and then we’ll meet jointly with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Vice President Federica Mogherini.
This will be the first trip to Brussels at this level since the President was in Brussels for a summit with European leaders last March, and in particular since the new leadership in Europe assumed office in December.
And obviously given our close partnership across a range of critical issues, and in particular, given a series of recent events, including the terrorist attacks in Paris, the current escalation of the conflict in Ukraine by Russia and its proxies, the economic concerns across Europe and the globe, this is a particularly important time to check in with our European counterparts.
So we expect that in all of his meetings with European Union leaders, the Vice President will have the opportunity to compare notes on the situation in Ukraine, on critical issues of energy security that Europe is facing in particular and that obviously we all share in common, including on climate change; on a range of economic issues, including the ongoing Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP negotiations and other policies designed to promote economic growth, and of course, our counterterrorism cooperation, our common efforts to counter violent extremism and a range of other global issues.
Let me just say a couple words about a few of the issues we expect will come up in some of these meetings. On Ukraine, the Vice President will certainly want to discuss both the current escalation of the conflict by Russia and the need to impose additional costs on Russia for its ongoing aggression in eastern Ukraine, as well as the economic reforms that Ukraine is undertaking and how the European Union and the United States, along with the international community can continue to galvanize additional financial support for Ukraine.
On energy security, the Vice President will want to discuss with the EU leadership, plans for diversifying fuel types, sources of energy, and transit routes to reduce the ability of any one country to use energy as a political weapon; and of course, they’ll likely consult on an ongoing negotiations around the world on climate change and our efforts in that respect, as well.
On TTIP, where negotiators are meeting this week, we feel a real opportunity for a fresh start in the negotiations. And the Vice President will want to underscore that this agreement is really in the geostrategic interests of both the United States and Europe and the importance of our efforts to update the rules of the road globally, and set the standards for trade, in addition to bolstering growth and job creation on both (inaudible).
He’ll also likely address other ways that we can work together to strengthen the economic recovery in Europe and the United States. And, of course, given the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and in Brussels, the Vice President will begin discussing and continue discussing our efforts to counter violent extremism, stem the flow in financing for foreign terrorist fighters to travel, and better share information on such individuals.
Finally, there’s a whole range of global issues where the United States, of course, is working very closely with our European allies and partners, and those include the negotiations on Iran, the coalition against ISIL in Iraq and Syria. And we’ll obviously be checking in on those issues as well.
While in Brussels, the Vice President will also meet with the Belgian Prime Minister, where he’ll discuss of course our very close economic partnership, our bilateral relationship, and some of these same issues as well.
In Munich, on Saturday and Sunday of this week, the Vice President will attend the annual Munich Security Conference, where he’ll deliver remarks on European and global security challenges. The Vice President has spoken before at the Munich Security Conference, including in 2009, just after the President and the Vice President took office. And his visit will come just a day after our administration releases the President’s 2015 National Security Strategy as part of our effort to further define America’s foreign policy agenda and vision for U.S. global leadership.
So this will be a particularly appropriate moment to revisit some of the themes the Vice President has addressed in this particular forum in the past, as well as discuss how much has changed in the world and how the transatlantic community must adapt to the current challenges.
I’ll let the Vice President speak for himself at the conference, but I think we can expect he will use his remarks and his discussions with other leaders at the conference to address some of the enduring and emerging priorities and approaches to a range of global challenges.
As we see it, in many cases, the international order that we’ve worked together with our European partners to build over the previous decade coming under assault. And since the United States and Europe have been the traditional guardians of the international institutions that govern international relations and international trade and commerce, we have a special responsibility to address these challenges. And the Vice President will want to talk a little bit about what we’ve been doing and how the President and the Vice President have a vision for American leadership over the next couple of years and well beyond. But again, I’ll let the Vice President speak to that while he’s in Munich.
We’ll also have an opportunity in Munich for a number of other meetings with leaders who are also attending the conference. We’re still working to put the final touches on the schedule. And, of course, in a large event with a lot of leaders like this, you can expect there will be a number of informal opportunities for meetings and conversations on the sidelines. But let me just mention a couple of the highlights of the schedule and then turn to your questions.
First, we expect the Vice President will hold a joint meeting in a trilateral format with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. This will obviously give the three leaders an opportunity to discuss the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and international support for Ukraine’s reform efforts, including through financial assistance.
Chancellor Merkel obviously has been a strong, important support of Ukraine within Europe. And Germany has played a critical role diplomatically and financially in supporting a peaceful resolution of the conflict and in supporting our efforts to enable a democratic, free Ukraine, and its people to determine their own future. So we’ve worked closely with our German allies during the course of this crisis. And, of course, the Vice President has been engaging extensively with President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk since the start of the conflict.
Secretary Kerry will, of course, be in Ukraine on Thursday, a day or two before this meeting. And of course, this meeting will give the Chancellor and the Vice President a chance to consult with President Poroshenko in advance of the Chancellor’s very important visit to Washington to meet with the President and Vice President on February 9th. So we have a very intensive period of diplomacy on Ukraine and the full range of transatlantic issues over the course of the next few days.
Just briefly, the Vice President will also meet with the NATO Secretary General to discuss European security and in particular NATO’s Readiness Action Plan, as well as other ongoing efforts to strengthen the Alliance.
In Munich, the Vice President will also meet with a number of other European and international leaders, and we expect meetings with the President of Bulgaria, the Prime Minister of Georgia, the Prime Minister of Montenegro, among others, on the sidelines of the conference.
And we also expect to see Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi and the Kurdistan regional government President Barzani while in Munich as well. And that's an opportunity for the Vice President to discuss with both leaders our work together in the ongoing fight against ISIL and the ongoing effort to unite Iraq’s communities through a more inclusive approach to governance, as reflected most recently in the successful passage of the budget in Iraq.
You can expect the Vice President will have a chance to consult with Prime Minister Abadi on our ongoing efforts to enlist Sunnis in the fight against ISIL through both tribal mobilization under the Iraqi government and work that's ongoing on the national guard law.
So let me just say, in addition to the Vice President, of course, Secretary Kerry and a number of other senior U.S. officials will also be at the conference, including a very substantial congressional delegation. And I'm sure we'll have opportunity to say more about their engagement in other meetings during the course of the trip itself.
So -- let me just open it up for your questions about the trip and some of the issues we expect will come up during the course of the next few days. Thank you.
Q Last week, President Obama urged less austerity in Greece recovery, stressing that one could not keep squeezing countries that were in the midst of depression. Will Vice President Biden pass that message to the European leaders in general and to German Chancellor Merkel in particular?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So as you know, we have supported Europe as it has been moving to strengthen its economy and strengthen its recovery. We do believe that in the case of Greece it is very important for the Greek government to work cooperatively with its European colleagues, as well as with the IMF. And we have advised it to do so, and we are hopeful that these conversations are now moving to a place with some cooperation and mutual understanding. We very much favor a strong Europe with a strong euro and the integrity of the eurozone. So that’s as far as Greece is concerned.
We also over a number of years have suggested, have been arguing in the G20 that it’s important to have a focus on growth and jobs. We believe that the G20 and the G7 have moved over time to put that as a higher priority and that that is something that there is increasing support for. Of course, then you have to figure out what is the best way to achieve that.
And we are fairly confident about the state of the United States economy now after the immediate response to the financial crisis and then the following fiscal and monetary policies that we put in place and we are obviously supportive of others looking to develop policies that will support that kind of growth.
Q I am wondering whether the Vice President expects to talk about new antiterrorism measures in the wake of the Paris attacks and in particular whether he expects to talk about the visa waiver program and the discussions that at least in the Congress are being held right now about changing the rules and demanding for additional information exchanges.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, let me just say briefly on that I think all of the issues that you mentioned are under active discussion in our ongoing discussions about counterterrorism policies and practices, and ways that we can work together to more effectively combat terrorist threats between the United States and Europe and around the globe.
So I think you would expect that while the Vice President is obviously not going to negotiate any new agreements or programs between our countries, we have a number of discussions that are ongoing. There are a number of issues that we’re trying to deal with actively, both in light of the recent attacks but as an ongoing matter, because this is obviously a very important issue that we both share in common and both need to continue to work more closely together to try to address.
And so I expect that these issues will come up in particular in Brussels in the discussions between the Vice President and European leaders, but also throughout the course of the trip.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would simply add that we have a long-running dialogue across the Atlantic about counterterrorism and about getting the right balance between privacy and security, and data-sharing and technology. That debate has been intensified as a consequence of the events in Paris and heightened concern in Europe about security, about foreign fighters.
And therefore, we are intensifying our discussion with the Europeans on a wide range of issues, including the sharing of intelligence, the whole question of no-fly lists and data-sharing, and other issues that we can pursue to make sure that we do a better job, particularly when it comes (inaudible) extremism, violent extremism. And it’s because of that heightened concern that we will be holding here in Washington in a couple of weeks a summit on the issue of combatting violent extremism.
Q Hi. I’m wondering if there’s going to be opportunity for Vice President Biden to discuss the changes to bulk collection of foreign data that was announced yesterday. And if not, why not?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, let me just say a couple of words about that. As implicit in your question, yesterday, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Lisa Monaco gave some remarks and also released the update on some of our own series of reforms to intelligence programs that were initiated by the President’s Policy Directive 28 on signals intelligence activities. That was about a year ago.
And in those remarks, she laid out a number of additional steps that we’ve taken over the course of the year -- over the course of the last year, and steps that we’re taking and that are ongoing.
And obviously as my colleague mentioned in response to the question about counterterrorism cooperation, there are a range of issues related to striking the appropriate balance between privacy and security that we have as part of our ongoing dialogue with our European counterparts. So while there’s no specific agenda item to discuss these issues in particular, it’s very possible they could come up. And I’m sure the Vice President would be prepared to both give an update on what we have been doing in this area over the course of the last year and also continue the discussion about how best to strike that balance going forward and how to continue to work with our European partners across a range of these issues. So thank you very much for the question.
Q Hey, guys, thanks for doing the call. I’m wondering in the meeting with Merkel and Poroshenko whether the Vice President will be discussing the possibility of the U.S. sending lethal assistance to Ukraine. And on the TTIP discussions, what will be his message to European countries that are wondering whether the Obama administration can get such a deal through Congress and past the opposition of members of his own party?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On your first question, since the very beginning of the crisis in Ukraine, the United States has put a premium on staying in lockstep with our European allies when it comes to the response to Russia. And that means that on financial assistance, on sanctions and the isolation of Russia and on security assistance, we have always discussed in advance of any action our options with the Europeans, and we will continue that tradition moving forward. And in that respect, I think there’s no question that during the Vice President’s meetings -- not just the one that you mentioned with Poroshenko and Merkel but also in Brussels and other meetings in Munich -- all of these issues will be on the table: financial assistance, increasing pressure through sanctions, and how we can most effectively provide security assistance to Ukraine.
On the security assistance front, we have from the very beginning freshened our look at how best to support Ukraine’s integrity and its sovereignty, and we have had all options on the table from the beginning. In light of the recent escalation in fighting, exemplified by the fact that the separatists have pushed beyond the line of control and that Russia is resupplying the separatists in a very significant way, we are reevaluating our security assistance again.
But let me just say that our goal here is to find a diplomatic resolution to the conflict. We do not see a military resolution in the offing. And in that respect, our sanctions policy as well as our security assistance are aimed at changing the incentive structure facing Russia and encouraging them to settle this conflict at a negotiating table.
Do you want to say something about TTIP?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, thank you. So we are very determined and keen to move forward with the President’s and the Vice President’s trade agenda. I think that the President has made that clear in recent comments. And the most immediate part is the Trans Pacific Partnership, TPP, which began sooner -- the negotiations of that began sooner, which is with the dynamic region of Asia.
But the TTIP, as was mentioned earlier, is also a crucial part of both our drive to have high quality (inaudible) for American workers and companies around the world, but also strengthen our foreign policy and national security and diplomatic ties. And obviously these are very deep with Europe but TTIP would deepen them still further in a very helpful way. And I think there is quite a lot of support for that and these are negotiations that, as was mentioned earlier, are proceeding even this week and that we’re very focused on completing.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And I would just add, since one of my colleagues mentioned that we see TTIP not just in geo-economic terms but in geostrategic terms, that we think the agreement is an important symbolic step forward in consolidating the transatlantic relationship. And we also think that the benefits to growth and to jobs that TTIP would bring is of geostrategic importance in that it will help consolidate public support for greater European integration, it will help re-legitimate the European project in the eyes of the Europeans. Because, after all, it is the sluggish economic conditions that are in many respects creating discontent among the public. And the stronger Europe is the better the relationship with the United States, and the more we have in Europe to partner with which we can more effectively work.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would just add one more sentence to that, which is just to say that obviously our European counterparts are also looking for a signal of the level of our support and the political dynamics, frankly, in the United States. And the Vice President, obviously given his many years of serving in the Senate and deep understanding of the political dynamics between the administration and Capitol Hill, and in particular, the long history of bipartisan agreement on and support for trade and efforts to promote economic development between the U.S. and its partners around the world is particularly well positioned to answer some of the questions his counterparts may have and to give them a sense of our game plan going forward.
Q I just wanted to follow up on the earlier question on aid to Ukraine. Will the Vice President be making any specific asks or engaging dialogue on the sidelines of the Munich Security Summit to ask specific countries to increase their nonlethal aid or training efforts with Ukraine? Is that part of the agenda here?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think that as I mentioned, the Vice President will be consulting with European allies across the board, because we do have three different issue areas in play. One is the potential to increase the costs to Russia through economic measures. The second is to make sure that Ukraine has the financial support it needs moving forward. And the third is to enhance Ukraine’s ability to defend itself and thereby give the Russians and the separatists a greater incentive to negotiate an end to the conflict.
And so in that third basket of issues, the Vice President will be engaged in discussions about how most effectively to achieve that end. And working bilaterally with the United States, bilaterally with individual European countries, and also multilaterally through NATO, we are in the process of giving both training assistance to the Ukrainians as well as equipment that enhances their defensive capability. So that will definitely be part of the conversation.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would just add one additional note on that. As I mentioned earlier, we're entering obviously what is a very intensive period of diplomacy. With the Vice President being in Brussels and Munich, we'll have a number of conversations on this topic and the range of issues that my colleague just mentioned. Secretary Kerry will obviously be in Ukraine on Thursday, and then of course, Chancellor Merkel will be here in Washington on Monday for a very important set of discussions and consultations here at the White House with the President and the Vice President and others. So we obviously have a lot of work we can do over the next few days on this range of issues that my colleague pointed out.
MR. SPECTOR: I think this will wrap it. We appreciate your time. And as a friendly reminder, this call was on background from senior administration officials. If you have any follow-up questions, you can reach us at email@example.com. Thanks again.
11:32 A.M. EST