Background Press Call by a Senior Administration Official On President Biden’s Engagements at NATO Summit
3:08 P.M. CEST
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. [Redacted.] Our speaker is going to also provide a brief, unembargoed, on-background update of some of President Biden’s engagements today at NATO, including the President’s meeting with Baltic leaders. So, I’ll turn it over to him to kick us off on that. [Senior administration official], go ahead.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, everybody, for joining the call. And greetings from NATO headquarters, where I’ve just stepped out of the session of the leaders here at the summit that is currently ongoing.
President Biden has delivered his remarks a short while ago, and other leaders are now speaking. On the margins of the NATO Summit, he had the opportunity to meet with the leaders of the three Baltic countries: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. And he got the chance to discuss with them and coordinate with them in advance of his meeting with Putin on Wednesday to talk about the threat that Russia poses to NATO’s eastern flank, to talk about common commitment to Article 5 and collective defense, to coordinate on the resilience of those states in the face of multiple dimensions of the threat posed by Russia — from cyber, to provocative military exercises on their borders, to information warfare.
He was able to communicate to them what he has communicated publicly, which is that the United States seeks a stable and constructive relationship with Russia, but also will respond in the face of Russia’s harmful activities and will always stand up for NATO Allies.
They also discussed the emerging security challenge posed by China, including in the domain of technology. And he thanked the three leaders for the steps that they have taken to support a trusted 5G platform — to not accept Huawei within their systems.
They also had the opportunity to confer on Belarus and, in particular, the recent egregious air piracy that occurred with respect to a flight that was actually bound for Vilnius, Lithuania. And they had the opportunity to talk more broadly about and an affirmative agenda around emerging technologies and innovation.
It was a constructive, warm, vigorous engagement between him and the three leaders, and a real symbol of solidarity and unity with NATO’s eastern flank.
In that vein, he also had the opportunity to do a brief meeting with the Presidents of Poland and Romania, who are the co-chairs of the Bucharest Nine, the same group of eastern flank Allies that he engaged with at their virtual summit a few weeks ago. He was able to speak with the two of them about his commitment to (inaudible) security; his commitment, again, to stand up in the face of the threat posed by Russia; and to let them know his intentions for the summit in Geneva on Wednesday.
He had a separate encounter — an engagement with President Duda of Poland, where they got to go a little bit deeper into the questions of America’s security and military cooperation and engagement with Poland and the United States’ strong support for the defense of Poland and our common collective commitment to NATO.
He had the chance to talk to a number of other leaders as well, just very briefly — from the Prime Minister of Spain to the Prime Minister of the Netherlands — on a range of different issues — and, of course, to see his colleagues who have just come with him from Cornwall and the G7 — President Macron, Chancellor Merkel, Prime Minister Draghi, Prime Minister Johnson.
Q Thanks, [senior administration official], for doing this. I was hoping you could speak to the issue of Afghanistan and whether any of the NATO members raised concerns with Biden about the withdrawal. And then separately, I would just ask, broadly, on behalf of the media here, if we could get these bilats on the schedule or delivered to the press because we were unaware of several of them today, and also that we could get some access to them, which has been a pretty tradition — a tradition of both parties in the past. Thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, on the second thing, you know, this was at the initiative of President Biden today that he wanted the opportunity to seek out key leaders, particularly on the eastern flank, to be sure he had the time — the opportunity to spend time with them, especially given the fact that for the key Western European countries, he’s just spent three days with them, and he wanted to maximize this opportunity to talk to the Poles, the Romanians, the (inaudible), et cetera. So, a lot of this was evolving in real time and there was not an effort to –- frankly, we would have loved to had — have more press access to them. But we’ll endeavor always to do better as we go forward.
In terms of Afghanistan, I listened –- I was in the room for the first hour of the summit and heard many of the significant troop-contributing countries speak and speak to the issue of Afghanistan. And each of them said that they ultimately agreed with the decision to come — to draw down this year. They understood that the time had come.
And the real focus in the room was not on the question of staying or going in 2021; the real focus was on how we work together as an Alliance to continue to provide support to the Afghan National Security Forces, the Afghan government, and the Afghan people.
And there is a considerable amount of practical work being done on that and strategic alignment on the desire to keep embassy presences, to maintain the necessary security to do that, and to work together as an alliance on everything from training — you know, particularly on over-the-horizon training; to counterterrorism and how we keep suppressing the terrorist threat in Afghanistan; to the provision of economic assistance in various forms to government.
So I’ve read some of the stories about this question of support or nonsupport for the drawdown from Afghanistan, and I’ve got to tell you that that is not the vibe in the room today. And, you know, it is — there is an incredible amount of warmth and unity around the entire agenda, including the “in together, out together” aspect of the Afghanistan drawdown.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks so much, again, everybody, for taking the time and hopping on this call. Really appreciate it.
3:32 P.M. CEST