Aboard Air Force One
En Route Suffolk, England
6:56 P.M. BST
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Okay. Hi, everyone. We are on our way, almost arriving on the President’s first foreign trip. We have a very special guest for our gaggle today. Our National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, will take some questions, and then once you’re done with that, I’m happy to take some as well. But you may have mostly for him.
Q Jake, do you want to talk a little bit about the President’s plan for boosting the global vaccine supply?
MR. SULLIVAN: I do not want to get ahead of the President, who will be speaking to this issue tomorrow. And we’ll be able to talk about additional steps the United States is taking to help donate more doses to poor countries around the world and also to leverage what the United States is doing to help get the world’s democracies to increase their commitment to supplying vaccines to the developing world to help end this pandemic once and for all. But that announcement that he will make, he will — I will let him make.
And then the G7, we’ll make a combined announcement on this issue, and it won’t simply be about vaccines — though vaccines will be a part of it — but it will be a comprehensive plan to help end this pandemic as rapidly as possible.
Q What is the incentive for doing this? Is this about countering China and Russia? The President has talked about their vaccine diplomacy. Why is he trying to rally Western democracies, in particular, on this issue?
MR. SULLIVAN: I’d say three things about this:
First, the President is focused on helping to vaccinate the world because believes it is the right thing to do; it’s what Americans do in times of need. When we have the capacity, then we have the will, and we step up and we deliver. And he said in his joint session that we were the arsenal of democracy in World War Two, and we’re going to be the arsenal of vaccines over the course of the next period to end this pandemic.
Second, it’s the smart thing to do, because if variants continue to proliferate and get worse, ultimately one could break through. And he wants to make sure we end the pandemic before that happens.
And then, third, he does want to show — rallying the rest of the world’s democracies — that democracies are the countries that can best deliver solutions for people everywhere. And that goes for COVID-19, it goes for climate change, it goes for economic recovery, and it goes for the basic human rights and human dignity of all people.
Q Can you talk about the working groups that are being launched to reopen travel within the G7?
MR. SULLIVAN: We’ve established two working groups of experts — public health experts: one with the United Kingdom and one with the European Union. The point of these working groups is to share data and set out both milestones and criteria to enable a reopening of travel between our two countries as swiftly as possible, consistent with public health guidance.
Q Should we expect any announcement on that front, during the trip?
MR. SULLIVAN: I don’t think the working groups will have finished their work by the time the trip is through. So we’re not currently anticipating any specific announcements because we’re being guided by science; we’re being guided by what the public health experts tell us is the right condition and the right timeframe for reopening.
Q Do you expect that the EU’s refusal of the vaccine patent waiver to be a point of contention between the President and the other leaders? Is the President going to push them to waive — patent waivers?
MR. SULLIVAN: I don’t anticipate contention on the issue of vaccines. I anticipate convergence, because we’re all converging around the idea that we need to boost vaccine supply in a number of ways: sharing more of our own doses — and we’ll have more to say on that; helping get more manufacturing capacity around the world — we’ll have more to say on that; and, of course, doing what’s necessary across the chain of custody from when the vaccine is produced to when it gets in someone’s arms in the rural developing world, and we’ll have more to say on that.
So, I don’t foresee any clash or contest between the U.S. and our democratic partners on this issue. I see a unity of effort and a unity of commitment. And I think the results are going to end up speaking for themselves.
Q How prominent is the conversation with Putin going to be on Syria humanitarian aid passage and keeping that route to Idlib open?
And, second, on that: With the decision to end the sanctions waiver for the American oil company that was operating there, that Russia very much against, was that sort of a fig leaf or playing out something for Putin to sort of smooth the talks on that?
MR. SULLIVAN: Syria will be on the agenda, and our position on the humanitarian access issue is well understood. We believe there has to be cross-border humanitarian access to save lives. And so that certainly will be something that the two presidents discuss.
I’m not going to get into the details on it at this point because we want to give space for those conversations to play out in the run-up to Geneva and then between the two presidents. And I’ve got nothing more for you today on the oil field issue in eastern Syria.
Q Jake, can you talk about strategic stability being a key part of the discussion? How are you defining that? Is it in the traditional nuclear arms control definition? Is it the mix of arms control/cyber vulnerabilities for the (inaudible)? Is it something broader involving the way the Russians are acting on their borders? What’s your concept?
MR. SULLIVAN: We believe the starting point for strategic stability talks should be the very complex set of nuclear arms issues that face our two countries. We’ve extended New START for five years. But what comes after that, how do we deal with the fact that the INF Treaty is no more, how do we deal with our concerns about Russia’s new nuclear systems, and —
Q (Inaudible) deployed you mean, but that Putin keeps showing.
MR. SULLIVAN: (Inaudible) development.
MR. SULLIVAN: And these are issues that we have raised publicly and we’ve raised privately with the Russians. That’s the starting point. Whether additional elements get added to strategic stability talks in the realm of space or cyber or other areas, that’s something to be determined as we go forward.
Q Jake, there’s been an uptick in ransomware attacks recently. Is that going to be a point of discussion when the President meets with President Putin?
MR. SULLIVAN: Yes, 100 percent.
Q What can you do about it? I mean, is retaliation on the table, off the table?
MR. SULLIVAN: So, our basic view on this is that all ransomware attacks are crimes. They should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, and every responsible nation should take action against the criminals who are conducting them and should not harbor them in any way.
Ransomware attacks against critical infrastructure are of an even higher order of magnitude of concern for us, whether that’s about a pipeline or meat supply or a hospital system or other areas of critical infrastructure. The President will talk to President Putin about our concerns on this front.
We do not judge that the Russian government has been behind these recent ransomware attacks, but we do judge that actors in Russia have. And we believe that Russia can take and must take steps to deal with it.
And I’m not going to be in the business of telegraphing our punches publicly or issuing threats publicly; I’m just going to say that we believe Russia has a responsibility. And, of course, any country that doesn’t act, then the United States will have to consider what its options are, following that.
Q What do you think is causing the uptick? Why do you think now? Why do you think there’s been an uptick in attacks now?
MR. SULLIVAN: Well, first of all, let’s be clear that this is not strictly a U.S.-Russia issue. Ireland has faced the — a catastrophic attack on its healthcare system. The JBS attack started in a computer system; it came from Russia, hit first a computer system in Mexico, affected Australia and Canada, as well as the United States.
So, this is a global problem and it’s being driven by a variety of factors, including increasing technical capability, and also, unfortunately, including the fact that many elements of the private sector globally have not brought their cybersecurity standards up to snuff.
And one of our messages has been — to the private sector in the United States and globally — that it is — it’s very important to lock your house, to make sure that it is more difficult for these criminals to get inside and hold them hostage or disrupt their operations.
Q Do you think the President will discuss the Nord Stream pipeline with the German chancellor and/or the Russian president? Will it come up? Do you expect them to raise it?
MR. SULLIVAN: I expect Nord Stream 2 will come up in conversations with the Germans. Again, I don’t want to negotiate publicly on this issue. They understand well our concerns. But we do want to talk to them about what the implications of this pipeline are for energy security in Europe and for Ukraine.
Q Jake, what is the message that President Biden will deliver to Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Brexit and the Northern Ireland — the Good Friday Agreement?
MR. SULLIVAN: President Biden has been crystal clear about his rock-solid belief in the Good Friday Agreement as the foundation for peaceful coexistence in Northern Ireland. That agreement must be protected, and any steps that imperil or undermine it will not be welcomed by the United States.
Q Is Johnson taking steps to imperil it?
MR. SULLIVAN: I’m not going to characterize that at this point. I’m only going to say that President Biden is going to make statements in principle on this front. He’s not issuing threats or ultimatums; he’s going to simply convey his deep-seated belief that we need to stand behind and protect this protocol.
Q What else does he want to talk to Boris Johnson about?
MR. SULLIVAN: Well, he’ll be talking to Boris Johnson about COVID-19; about climate change, as the UK is hosting COP26 in Glasgow later this year; about their joint commitment to developing an infrastructure financing mechanism for the developing world that is climate friendly, high standards, and transparent. He’ll talk to him about Afghanistan and our collective desire to maintain a strong embassy security — or embassy presence in Afghanistan after the troop drawdown. And, of course, there’s a whole global set of issues, from the Indo-Pacific to the Middle East, that the two leaders will cover.
And then, finally — you’ll see this when they meet tomorrow — there’ll be a refresher of the Atlantic Charter, which is now 80 years old. So there will be an updated statement of principles between the U.S. and the UK as free societies and free peoples speaking out about what we believe in in this 21st century.
Q Jake, the President has talked about personal relationships in driving foreign policy. He had this meeting 10 years ago with Vladimir Putin. What did he learn from that meeting, and what is he bringing from that meeting? And has he been reflecting on it at all in the preparation for this upcoming meeting?
MR. SULLIVAN: Bottom line: He believes you need to be clear, direct, and straightforward in every aspect of the engagement with Vladimir Putin, and that’s what he intends to do.
Q Did he ever consider having a joint press conference with him?
MR. SULLIVAN: I’m sorry?
Q Did he — did the President ever consider having a joint press conference with Putin, or was it out of the question from the start?
MR. SULLIVAN: I will defer to my press colleagues about the individual modalities of the press-related issues. But he does want to have an opportunity after that meeting to read it out and speak about his impressions and what he sees as the way forward.
Q Can you tell us what your views are on the 232 tariffs that remain in place? Do you expect them to come in and — like, do you think that those 232 tariffs are a national security issue? That was the guise or umbrella under which they were imposed in the first place.
MR. SULLIVAN: Well, you know, in a real spirit of constructive engagement, the U.S. and the EU have agreed to a pause in the escalation of tariffs in response to the 232. That has given time and space for a negotiation to hopefully produce an outcome that meaningfully addresses the problem of Chinese overcapacity. And we regard that as a serious challenge that affects both Europe and the United States and must be dealt with effectively.
Q Do you believe there’s an outcome possible on this trip, or is that a longer-term discussion?
MR. SULLIVAN: I think that’s going to take some time to work out, which is why that stand-down on the tariffs was so important — because it gives us the time and space for us to be able to (inaudible).
Q But you’re not rolling back tariffs? You’re not rolling back tariffs?
MR. SULLIVAN: (Shakes head no.)
Q Can you speak a little bit about Iran and what the President will ask President Putin, in terms of supporting the JCPOA?
MR. SULLIVAN: Russia is a member of the P5+1. The American negotiating team is working with the Russian negotiating team in Vienna. They have worked together in a productive and constructive way, to a large extent. And so this will be an opportunity for the two presidents to be able to consult on where we think we are in those talks and what needs to be done to get them across the line.
Q Jake, on Iran — just continuing on that same line: The Secretary has frequently said we need something longer and stronger, and so forth. Do you have any reason to believe that after — if you get the agreement that is now basically in blue, that the Iranians have any interest in going to something that is longer and stronger? And what is that evidence?
MR. SULLIVAN: We don’t underestimate the difficulty of any nuclear negotiation with the Iranians, since we’ve been through them. But we do believe that there is scope for follow-on negotiations to deal with what — to build on the JCPOA once we are back in it. And we believe the Iranians will ultimately be prepared to engage in those negotiations. There are things for them to gain, because there are many aspects of our sanctions that are — are not necessarily part of the original JCPOA. And, of course, we retain all of the right and capacity to take additional steps if they’re not prepared to negotiate in good faith.
Q You’ve talked before about the ransomware side. But, you know, a few months ago, if this meeting was happening, it would have been pretty much all about SolarWinds and state-sponsored actions. So is that now behind you, having done the sanctions and whatever unseen activities? And what’s the President’s message on that? What kind of guardrails might use that (inaudible)?
MR. SULLIVAN: We have had the opportunity to engage with the Russians, through several channels, on the SolarWinds issue, both before and after we imposed costs in response to it. But that doesn’t mean that issue is behind us, of course. The issue of state-sponsored cyberattacks of that scope and scale remains a matter of grave concern to the United States. It will be a topic of conversation between the presidents.
And us talking ransomware is not going to come to the exclusion of us talking about the cyber threat in multiple other domains.
Q (Inaudible) him to some understanding with Putin, to some understanding of what’s off limits. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
MR. SULLIVAN: I’m going to leave that to the two presidents to discuss for now. You know, sort of, depending on how that conversation goes at the highest level and where we come out, we will be in a better position to be able to talk about our expectations, as well as our capacities at that point. But I don’t want to front-run that today.
Q Has there been any developments on Airbus during this time at all? The Airbus dispute — the Boeing Airbus dispute.
MR. SULLIVAN: I’m not going to say one way or the other on that. All I will note is that the negotiations are ongoing, that we also there bought space with the mutual stand-down on tariffs as well that runs out much sooner than the 232. And so, I think there has been good progress in those negotiations, but I’m making no promises about what might happen over the course of the (inaudible).
Q Jumping ahead to the NATO meeting, does the President feel the need to restate U.S. support for Article 5?
MR. SULLIVAN: Yes, of course.
Q Will he do that in Brussels?
MR. SULLIVAN: He feels the need to restate support for Article 5 as often as he is able to do so, because for him, it’s an article of faith — for President Joe Biden and for the United States of America. And so he will proclaim that loudly and proudly, as he just did with the Secretary General when he was in town a couple of days ago.
But, you know, he’s not just going to speak about principle; he’s going to speak about the practicalities of what’s required to make Article 5 real, including the work that needs to be done between now and 2030 on every aspect of transatlantic defense and security.
Q Jake, in the last G7, there was not a communiqué because of disagreements between President Trump and the other leaders. Can we expect a communiqué at this G7?
MR. SULLIVAN: I don’t want to jinx it, but yes, I think you can expect a communiqué at this G7. And — you know. But you never know. I hope so.
MS. PSAKI: All right, I’m going to let Jake go back.
Q Thanks, Jake.
Q If you can speak a little bit more about the format of
the bilaterals between President Biden and Putin, that would be great.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I mean, what I can tell you is we’re still discussing, so we don’t have a final conclusion yet. That what I can confirm for you is that you will have the opportunity to ask questions of President Biden. And we certainly hope that you’ll also have the opportunity to ask questions of President Putin. What that format looks like, we’ll know in the next couple days.
Q And so it’s still being negotiated with the Russians?
MS. PSAKI: Still being — still being discussed.
Q And it’s still two bilats — a small and an extended one?
MS. PSAKI: That’s right.
Q Talk about infrastructure a little bit. We saw the statement. Has the President now decided to go it only with Democrats to pass the bill?
MS. PSAKI: So I talked to the President about this, this morning, and his view is that there are multiple paths forward. He feels it’s encouraging to see multiple proposals put out there, both from Republicans in the House and the Problem Solvers Caucus, as well as a bipartisan group that’s working on a proposal. Both will have increased numbers over what we’ve seen and been negotiating to date. Those are all positive steps.
At the same time, Steve, we’re also — the Senate is also moving forward with a budget process. That, by the way, is how government should work. It’s an opportunity to move, through that vehicle, a bunch of his bold economic ideas, as well as corporate tax reform — something that, of course, will pay for a number of his proposals but also something that will make us more competitive and he thinks is long overdue.
Q The President, with Senator Capito, pivoted to talking about a 15 percent minimum corporate tax as opposed to a 28 percent corporate tax rate. Of course, they’re not mutually exclusive, but is he resetting at all, now that he’s pivoting to the bipartisan group?
MS. PSAKI: He has always felt that corporate tax reform and raising the corporate rate to 28 percent — which he proposed and is in his budget, as you know — is something that is good for — good for our competition, good for our economy, good for workers in this country, and also will help pay for proposals.
As you also know, the 15 percent minimum tax was an additional proposal that he put forward in the American Jobs Plan and also is in his budget. But it is a proposal that would not violate the red line the Republicans have put forward on the 2017 tax cuts. So, that, which would help pay for proposals, as well as the IRS going after individuals to ensure they’re paying for — they’re paying their fair share and they’re paying what they owe — are payfors that do not violate the 2017 taxes. And that’s why he reelevated those.
Q Do you think those corporate tax changes are more or less likely with this bipartisan group of senators than they were with Senator Capito’s group? Are they more on the table or less on the table?
MS. PSAKI: We’ll certainly see. But our view and the President’s view is that they should be on the table for all of them because they do not violate their red line; because — unless they feel that these corporations shouldn’t pay any taxes at all. We’re just suggesting they should pay 15 percent, which isn’t even what the tax rate he’s proposing for most corporations around the country.
Q Did the President spend any time on the flight over, or even in the short time between when he woke up this morning, getting to talk to people and do some of this reach-out that he said he’s going to be doing on infrastructure, while (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure even any of his close friends would like a call from him at 6:00 a.m. (Laughter.) But he will certainly be engaged on this trip with his domestic agenda, including having conversations with Democrats and Republicans back at home.
On this trip, he was primarily focused on having discussions with his national security team about the foreign trip — his first foreign trip overseas — but he will be having those conversations. We’ll keep you abreast of those. He’s also asked his Jobs Cabinet to run point and be closely engaged with all of these members of both parties who are interested in being part of the infrastructure negotiations moving forward.
Q And I know you guys — I know he can walk and chew gum, or whatever metaphor you want to use, but is there any disappoint, just not having that done before getting started with this also very important agenda item?
MS. PSAKI: I would say that what we see are a number of signs of progress. One, the Senate just passed a China competition bill just yesterday. We’re eager for the House to move forward on that; that’s a positive step forward.
While we’re on this plane — on this flight, Congressman DeFazio is helping oversee the markup of the Surface Transportation bill that has a great deal of overlap with the American Jobs Plan. And in addition to the Senate moving forward on a budget process that can be a vehicle for his economic ideas and corporate tax reform, we’ve also seen multiple options of proposals come forward in a bipartisan manner.
He’s quite familiar with the fact that this process can take — it takes some patience at times; that there are going to be moments where we’re near death, and then it comes back. That’s always how policymaking, lawmaking, bill making happens.
And — but he’s been encouraged by the progress, encouraged by the interest by not just Republicans and Democrats in the country, but also in Congress, on working together to get an infrastructure bill passed.
Q Can you say what Jake meant by a “refresher” of the transatlantic charter? Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. It will be something that we will put out. it will update the charter that, as he noted, is several decades old — I believe is what he said. And we’ll put that out publicly and it will — you know, it will confirm and be clear — and will be consistent with what our challenges are today and opportunities today. So we’ll put that out publicly.
Q Can you talk to us about what can we expect with the bilat with President Erdoğan?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, this is a relationship, obviously a NATO partner, where there are areas where we feel it’s important to continue to constructively work together where there’s opportunity, and also areas where we have strong disagreement. And it’s an opportunity to have that face-to-face diplomacy, which the President felt was important to do as a priority bilateral meeting during his first trip overseas.
Q So what are the specific issues? Like, Syria or —
MS. PSAKI: I’m sure they will discuss issues of regional security; issues, of course, that are impacting the global community, including the economy, including COVID-19. And we’ll have more, I’m sure, as we get closer to the bilateral meeting.
Q Is he going to have bilats with other leaders at the G7, or, like, pull-asides individually?
MS. PSAKI: He will certainly have pull-asides. I will look back at the schedule and what we’ve confirmed publicly. As you all know, from covering these international summits, there are — the schedules are quite packed, but there is an opportunity often to have, kind of, pull-aside conversations, and he’ll look for the opportunity to do that on the ground as well.
Q There’s rumors that he’s going to be having a pull-aside with the Belarusian opposition leader. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: I have not seen — I am not aware of that plan.
Q On infrastructure — back to infrastructure: Leader Schumer suggested that the bill could possibly pass partially through reconciliation, partially through bipartisan. Is that something that the administration is open to?
MS. PSAKI: Yes. I mean, the point is it’s moving on several paths. So even as we negotiate an infrastructure bill — right? — or portions of the American Jobs Plan, it’s already moving forward on several fronts.
And then there are components of the Amer- — of the President’s proposals, including the extension of the Child Tax Credit, making pre-K universal, making community college free, that are not a part of the negotiations now, so they would be natural components that would be added into a budget process.
Q So, Jen, a couple of weeks ago, we heard the President agreeing to the statement that President Putin is a killer. Do you think that’s going to make things awkward coming into the summit?
MS. PSAKI: The President has known President Putin for a long time. He has never held back in voicing his concerns or issues where their behavior is not aligned with democratic values, and he will certainly be straightforward in doing that in this meeting as well.
But this is not about friendship. It’s not about trust. It’s about what’s in the interest of the United States. And, in our view, that is moving toward a more stable and predictable relationship.
Q Jen, on the China bill, you now have to get to the House. What’s the strategy there? It looks like that may be a tougher climb than the Senate.
MS. PSAKI: That — that may be the case. Look, the President was certainly encouraged by the fact that it passed the Senate. We’ve seen concerns expressed publicly by some members of the House, including some high up. And we’re going to take a look at what the legislation looks like, hear their concerns. We’ll be engaged, of course, in discussing how we can move this forward, you know, from a staff level.
Q Do you have a schedule for that, or not?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a schedule or a timeline to predict.
Q So, the global minimum tax — some of the Republicans came out against it this week. Does that complicate the plan at all?
MS. PSAKI: On the world stage?
Q Yes. No — yes.
MS. PSAKI: No, our view is that this is in the interest of America’s competition of our economy, of the global economy to have that global minimum tax, and felt it was a very positive sign that there was agreement among finance ministers at the G7. So we are encouraged by that, and, you know, it’s a positive sign.
Q (Inaudible) the EU and U.S. have a — their draft statement, as of now, includes a reference to the origins — the investigation into the origins of the coronavirus. Why is the U.S. seeking, sort of, support from European allies on this issue of getting to the bottom of where that virus came from?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that even as we pursue our own 90-day review, and — where we are going to tap into every resource we have available in the U.S. government, we also recognize that in order to send a clear message to China and to the WHO, of course, who’ve been a constructive partner, that it’s important that they are transparent, that they release all the available data, that we move forward on the second stage of this investigation. Doing that from a united front and doing that in partnership with our European partners is a vital part of this process. So, it’s an indication of that.
Q Will there be a similar line in the G7 communiqué?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to predict for you on that quite yet. You’ll know soon enough.
Q Can you comment again on the vaccine patent waiver? The U.S. has just joined the G20 — I’m sorry, the APEC — to support the patent waivers.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Will the President be pushing this issue with European leaders who prefer to do compulsory licensing instead?
MS. PSAKI: There is an ongoing process that our ambassador — our USTR ambassador is running point on. It’s a long process, as you know — several months to negotiate what the best format will look like. Whether it’s coming up — going to come up in conversations, I’m sure we can — that will be reflected in readouts. But I would suspect we will leave it at the level of the U.S. ambassador.
Q So the President doesn’t plan to put his diplomatic weight behind a patent waiver?
MS. PSAKI: The President has certainly spoken about his support on the waiver. He believes it’s import- — an important component of addressing the global threat of COVID. And he will continue to play a constructive role. But I don’t have anything to preview for you or predict in terms of how it will come up in these conversations.
All right, thanks, everyone.
Q Thank you. Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Have a good landing.
7:25 P.M. BST