the WHITE HOUSEPresident Barack Obama

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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Briefing by U.S. Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes

7:49 P.M. WET
 
     MR. HAMMER:  Good evening, everyone.  Thanks for joining us.  And we’re a little bit tight on time, but we have an on-the-record briefing with our Ambassador to NATO, Ivo Daalder, as well as Ben Rhodes, who you know from the National Security Council, our deputy national security advisor for strategic communications.
 
     MR. RHODES:  I’ll really just turn it over to Ivo.  I’ll just say by way of introduction that today we focused on the NATO Strategic Concept and unified position for the alliance going forward in the 21st century.  Tomorrow we obviously have the session in the morning that will focus on aligning our approach to Afghanistan, and then the NATO-Russia Council.  And the President also has a bilateral meeting tomorrow with President Karzai.  And then in the afternoon he has the U.S.-EU Summit.
           
     The first thing I’ll say before I turn it over to Ivo is just to highlight -- and the President just spoke to this in his remarks -- really the extraordinary progress that’s been made over the course of the year in resolving some very, very important and difficult issues.  Chief among them, which Ivo can speak to, is the agreement on missile defense, which obviously is an issue that our administration has been interested in from day one.  Since the President rolled out his phased adaptive approach, we’ve been working this really hard with our allies.  And I think we saw a lot of that work bear fruit today, and Ivo can speak to that. 
 
And similarly, you’re of course aware of the efforts we’ve done on the Russia reset, which is another presidential priority, which will be manifested in the NATO-Russia Council meetings tomorrow.
 
     So I think what we see is an advancement of core Obama administration objectives that have also opened the door to taking this alliance to the next stage so that it’s prepared for the 21st century. 
 
With that, though, Ivo can make some comments and then we’ll take some questions.
 
     AMBASSADOR DAALDER:  Great.  Thanks, Ben.  The core concept of this administration has been to rebuilding our alliances and partnerships.  And when we got, a year and a half ago, together in the last NATO summit, the leaders then, led by President Obama, set the goal of making this alliance relevant for the 21st century.  And we were hoping that we could achieve that here in Lisbon.
 
     Today, I think we can say that we succeeded.  It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t even self-evident.  Just a few weeks ago and a few months ago, there were differences within this alliance on some big issues -- nuclear weapons, missile defense, partnership, Russia -- appeared to suggest that this alliance couldn’t unify around a set of central concepts and central themes that would allow this alliance to work together among the 28 in the 21st century.
 
     I think we have done that.  We did it today just a few hours ago when we adopted the new Strategic Concept, which you will be able to receive shortly.  I think it’s been -- just been handed out.  It is a crisp, clean, concrete, concise document that lays out how we’re going to meet the core requirements of collective defense and cooperative security by working with others. 
 
     A central component on that is how do we deal with not only existing threats but new threats -- new threats of cyber, new threats of missile proliferation, new threats coming from states failing and how do we work that together. 
 
     A key component of that is the decision to build a NATO missile defense system that will provide the protection of NATO and the United States, of NATO Europe and the United States, against ballistic missiles of all territory and populations.  That is a key decision that this administration set itself as a goal when the President in December 2009 announced the phased adaptive approach.
 
     Previous administrations have tried to get a European missile defense system.  They haven’t succeeded.  This administration decided that it needed to put in place a defense of Europe and the United States and do it together with our allies. 
 
     In contrast of previous administrations and in contrast of previous systems, this is a system that will defend Europe and the United States -- all of Europe and all of the United States -- and it will do so under the cover of this alliance. 
 
     That is a major commitment that the United States is making to the defense of its allies and it’s a major commitment of the allies to the defense of the United States and of Europe.
 
     And we’re doing that at this time not in contrast to or in conflict with Russia, but with Russia because tomorrow President Medvedev will come here and he will be invited to cooperate on missile defense with NATO, with the very system that we have put into place.
 
     So in contrast to the narrative one has heard that somehow missile defense was a problem in U.S.-Russian or indeed NATO-Russian relationships, missile defense is now a means to foster greater cooperation with Russia.  In order to get that, we had to have a decision among the 28 allies for missile defense.  That decision was made today.
 
     Finally, you will see tomorrow this alliance united together in support of the President’s policy with regard to Afghanistan, a general view that where we’re moving in Afghanistan is a direction that the President set out back last December, and that NATO is now embracing not only in words but indeed in deeds by providing the capabilities necessary to succeed.
 
     So I think what we have is an alliance ready for the 21st century, dealing with the threats of the 21st century -- missile proliferation, cyber -- major movement on that as well -- while doing it in cooperation not only with our partners here in Europe but also NATO’s partners beyond Europe, including in Russia and in Afghanistan.
 
     With that, let me -- be happy to take some questions.
 
     MR. HAMMER:  Margaret.
 
     Q    How does this missile defense shield protect the United States?
 
     AMBASSADOR DAALDER:  How does it protect the -- this particular missile defense system will in the first instance protect U.S. forces deployed in Europe; we have 80,000-plus forces.  And it is fully integrated and part of the homeland missile defense system that we have in the -- deployed already in the United States.
 
     In the later phases, because this is a phased system, and if the threat of long-range missiles -- ICBMs -- develops, this system will be capable of actually intercepting those missiles coming from the Middle East and *(be countered by the system based in)southeastern Europe.
 
     Q    -- from Europe?
 
     AMBASSADOR DAALDER:  From Europe, will be able to --
 
     MR. HAMMER:  When asking the questions, could you speak up because I think we have this mic here.
 
     MR. GIBBS:  For the benefit of our transcribers.
 
     MR. RHODES:  And I’d just add, Margaret, if you recall when we rolled out our phased adaptive approach, it was based on the threat assessment that the immediate threat or the nearest-term threat was the medium-range ballistic missiles emanating from the Middle East region.  So that’s why the phased approach takes that into account on the front end.
 
     And I’d just underscore that there was a lot of skepticism when we rolled out our missile defense program, questions as to whether it would garner support from our European allies, questions as to whether it could achieve something which has not been achieved before, which is full coverage of the European populations.  And if you look at where the debate was on missile defense when we rolled out our system last September to where it is today, it points to an incredible amount of progress in terms of going from a United States plan that we put on the table to a plan that is now embedded in a core alliance capability that, again, will protect all European populations as well as supplementing our efforts to protect the United States.
 
     Q    Can I just clarify one thing that Ivo said?  Are you saying that this system over time that is to be built in Europe would have the capability to intercept long-range missiles aimed at the United States from here in Europe?
 
     AMBASSADOR DAALDER:  Yes.  And it’s a phased system.  It has four phases.  In the last phase, the missiles deployed in Poland and/or -- and Romania, which will be -- will be upgraded, will be more modern versions, will be able to intercept ICBMs being targeted at the United States from those locations.
 
     MR. HAMMER:  All right.  Let me go over here to Julie.
 
     Q    Just looking forward to (inaudible) on the Afghan policy, there are some people who are equating Afghan (inaudible) the end of NATO’s combat role in 2014.  Are those one and the same?
 
     AMBASSADOR DAALDER:  No, they’re not one and the same.  In the transition strategy that we will adopt tomorrow as an alliance is a strategy that says that in the early 2011 we will begin the process of the Afghans getting into the lead, and we hope that by the end of 2014 the entire country Afghanistan will be in the lead.  In the lead means that it will still have to rely on support from ISAF forces.  How, where, what is all dependent on the conditions on the ground.
 
     So it may well be that there are large parts of Afghanistan where the Afghanistans are not only in the lead -- they’re in control.  But there may be other parts in which they are still only in the lead and will rely on ISAF support capabilities, continued training, of course, of Afghan forces, and the like.
 
     But over time, the weight of who is responsible will increase in terms of the Afghans doing more and more and the international community, including U.S. forces, having to do less and less.
           
     MR. RHODES:  Just to add to that, I think the core point here is that we have -- we’ll be addressing both the process by which transition takes place -- so literally how do we implement handover to Afghan lead in different parts of the country -- and then (inaudible) alignment on the general time frame which is a time frame that begins in 2011 and then reaches the goal that President Karzai set and that the international community has embraced of full Afghan lead responsibility in 2014.
 
     So between the beginning of next year when this transition will begin to 2014, there will be a process of transition to Afghan lead in different parts of the country.  We’ll obviously begin in places that are more ripe for that transition to take place.  But, again, just as the United States is beginning its transition in July of 2011, the alliance is going to together align our approaches to transition from, again, the beginning of next year through 2014.
 
     Q    But we shouldn’t be under the impression that NATO’s role (inaudible) beyond 2014?
 
     MR. RHODES:  I think -- our view, again, is that the Afghans will have the lead responsibility for security of the country.  The nature of the continued support that NATO and ISAF forces provide, be it training assistance and a variety of support, is something that’s going to be determined at that time.
 
     MR. HAMMER:  All right.  Steve.
 
     Q    Thanks.  In terms of (inaudible) EU-NATO cooperation, I presume that’s (inaudible).  What did the Turks want and what did they get?
 
     AMBASSADOR DAALDER:  The Turks are one of 28 allies.  Like every other ally, they were arguing for their position; they argued hard.  And in the end, they joined consensus.
 
     What did they get?  They got an alliance decision.  They got an alliance decision that -- for missile defense -- that will protect all of -- will provide -- where the aim is to provide full coverage of all territory in NATO Europe as we move ahead.
 
     That’s what they wanted.  That’s what this decision will give them.
 
     In terms of the particular command and control arrangements, Turkey knows and everyone else knows that these are now the decisions that we start working on.  We needed to make a fundamental decision that the goal needed to be established of providing the protection for allied territories and populations.  That goal has now been set.  The decision that NATO should be in the business of doing this has been set.  And the mechanics of how to do it is something that we will work it into in the years -- in the months and years ahead.
 
     With respect to NATO-EU, you’re right, the decision was made to agree on a concept of how NATO and the European Union -- or actually, not a concept, a vision -- of how NATO and the European Union ought to cooperate, in which Turkey decided to join consensus today by saying it is our view that NATO and the EU need to work together as strategic partners and to do so by having the non-EU allies being involved in those operations.  And you will find the paragraph in the Strategic Concept to be forward-leaning, aspirational and visionary.  The actual implementation doesn’t only depend on NATO, but now NATO has said we want to work together with the European Union and Turkey in a major and an important decision decided to be part of that process.
 
     MR. RHODES:  And President Obama was able to speak on the margins to President Gul and communicate his appreciation for the Turkish decision to support this initiative.
 
     MR. HAMMER:  Christi.
 
     Q    Hi, thank you for doing this.  I just want to make sure I understood what you said.  You said this will be done not in contrast with Russia but rather with Russia -- (inaudible).  I just want to check and make sure, are you -- do you feel -- it sounds like you feel reasonably confident that President Medvedev (inaudible) support (inaudible).
 
     AMBASSADOR DAALDER:  What I said is we made a decision for NATO to defend NATO territory, and as part of that decision we invite Russia to cooperate with NATO on missile defense.  This is an invitation that we have now formally given to Russia.  Russia will come here tomorrow, and I believe that we will find that Russia and NATO will now decide that this is a time where we move together forward on how to cooperate, start asking those questions and begin answering them, rather than saying that this is an issue, which has long been a problem in the relationship.  Rather than being an issue for conflict, it is now an issue for cooperation.
 
     But the actual way in which we’re going to cooperate is something that we’re going to start working out starting the day after tomorrow when we get back to Brussels.
 
     MR. RHODES:  And as the President mentioned, Christi, part of this is also the notion that we share threats with Russia, and that broadens the basis for this cooperation.
 
     And, again, I’d just return to the point that the fact that we’re here now in November 2010 talking about a missile defense system that covers all of Europe and cooperates with Russia potentially on these issues is in stark contrast to where we were when we entered into these discussions a year ago and in September when the President rolled out his phased adaptive approach.
 
     So we’re very pleased with the ability to move the ball forward, both as an alliance on missile defense and in bringing Russia into the conversation through the NATO-Russia Council.
 
     Q    Hi, could you address (inaudible) START treaty (inaudible) discussion here?  And the President in his comments just now alluded to the Polish Foreign Minister’s comment, and as he left he indicated that some other heads of government (inaudible) issue a statement also, in effect, endorsing the New START treaty.  Can you tell us more about that?
 
     MR. RHODES:  I’d just -- I’d say a number of things.  First of all, I think that what the President was referring to is that both the START treaty and the security that it provides in terms of a verification regime with Russia is in the interests of the alliance.  And similarly, the reset with Russia has enhanced European security broadly, because you have, again, a more cooperative framework between Europe and Russia.  And that includes, again, our Central and Eastern European neighbors.
 
     So I think the Foreign Minister’s comments were very strong in pointing out that both the START treaty and the verification regime that it contains, as well as the broader effort that we’ve undertaken, is in the interest of European security and in their interest.
 
     There will be, we’d anticipate, statements from other leaders.  The President has had comments -- I’d just point to one.  Chancellor Merkel and him had a good conversation about the importance of moving forward with New START.  And I think he had a number of those conversations on the margins.
 
     And I think the broad consensus, again, is that having a treaty in place and ratified that allows for a verification regime, that allows for U.S. inspectors on the ground and that, again, responsibly restored reductions in our deployed nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles, enhances the security of all of Europe, just as it enhances American security.
           
     And, again, the ability of the United States and Russia to work together, but also NATO and Russia to reset their relationship is in the interest of all of Europe, because it adds stability to, again, European security and also allows us to move forward with issues like Iran sanctions and Afghan transit that have been fundamental priorities for us.
           
     So I think there’s a broad sense that New START is both in our security interest on the merits of the treaty itself, and that also the approach that has been taken between the United States and Russia, NATO and Russia, is in the broader interest of the alliance as well.
 
     And I would expect additional comments from leaders.
 
     Q    Yes (inaudible) with the President, if this is not going to go through now, so how it affects not just the relationship with Russia but also with NATO?
 
     MR. RHODES:  Well, our view is that we are working hard to see that the Senate approves the New START treaty this year.  It does have very broad bipartisan support.  That includes former officials like Colin Powell and George Shultz and Henry Kissinger who are with the -- some of them were with the President the other day.
 
It also includes bipartisan support in the Senate.  Senator Lugar, Republican, has been the most outspoken and eloquent spokesperson for this treaty in the Senate.  It was voted out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee 14-4 with bipartisan support.
 
So we are still working hard to get it passed with bipartisan support.  And we believe that the reason that that can take place is because it’s in the national interest -- it’s not a democratic or Republican treaty or idea.  Just as the New START treaty is in the interests of all of NATO, it’s in the interest of the American people, broadly speaking.
 
So we’re going to continue to work with Republican senators, as well as Democratic senators, to work to get the START treaty passed this year, again, because it’s in the interest of the United States, it’s in the interest of the alliance, and it’s in the interest of global security.
 
Q    Thanks.  The agreement -- the Strategic Concept said that NATO will remain a nuclear alliance.  Can you talk about the understanding (inaudible) Germany and France, about the intersection between deterrence and missile defense and whether you’ve gotten (inaudible) to keep its nuclear arsenal?
 
AMBASSADOR DAALDER:  Well, this is a Strategic Concept that lays out how to think about nuclear weapons.  And what it does is it embraces the President’s vision in Prague, which on the one hand sets a very clear objective, which is to create the conditions of a world without nuclear weapons right there on the first page, and at the same time recognizes that as long as there are nuclear weapons, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance and that nuclear weapons will remain a core part of the deterrence strategy that this alliance has.
 
And that was the essence of the balance that had to be struck -- on the one hand, a firm commitment to seeking a better world, one without nuclear weapons; and on the other hand, an understanding that as long as we live in a world with nuclear weapons, you needed to have a capability that was safe, secure and effective.
 
We are not and did not discuss what the future of the posture is.  You will see in the Strategic Concept a commitment to continue the review of the posture in the future.  And indeed, we will have a posture review, not only of our nuclear weapons but indeed of all our capabilities for deterrence and defense starting next year.
 
Q    Are you concerned that countries that want to get rid of their nuclear arsenal are going to hide under your nuclear umbrella?  So where the rest of the world can continue to reduce its nuclear arsenal, but you’re forced to defend all of Europe.  It says in the document that the United States remains the main provider of deterrence for the alliance.
 
AMBASSADOR DAALDER:  And the United States is --
 
Q    (Inaudible.)
 
AMBASSADOR DAALDER:  The United States has been the main provider of the nuclear deterrent for a very long time.  That sentence actually comes straight out of the 1999 Strategic Concept, so there’s nothing new here.  And it is our view that the responsibilities and risks of nuclear weapons within this alliance need to be shared widely. 
 
That is the view of the United States, and indeed it is the view of the alliance.  As long as nuclear weapons exist, this alliance will remain a nuclear alliance.  That’s what the Strategic Concept affirms.  And with that come responsibilities that each of us take on as members of this alliance.
 
MR. RHODES:  And I’d just add that it gets to -- from talking to those in the session, there was broad support for the framework laid out in Prague by the President, again, which is one that underscores the need to move in the direction of a world without nuclear weapons, that takes concrete steps as embedded in the START treaty, for instance, but also maintains a nuclear deterrent.
 
And this gets to the credibility question that was asked, because I think the credibility of the President is manifest in the fact that if you look across the board at the embrace of the Prague agenda, at the support, again, for this missile defense system, for the fact that the NATO-Russia Council is beginning again, these are the President’s core priorities manifested in the agenda of the alliance.  They engender broad international support.  And, again, I think that speaks to the fact that his credibility is substantial enough to drive the agenda here in Lisbon and to unify the alliance behind a core set of priorities that we have and that our European friends have that provides a basis for us to move forward together.

END
8:13 P.M. WET