Background Press Briefing by Senior Administration Officials on Vice President Biden's Foreign Leader Meetings
4:30 P.M. EST
MS. TROTTER: Hi, everyone. Thanks for hopping on and joining us to talk about the Vice President’s meeting today with the Prime Minister of Georgia and his upcoming meetings the President of Switzerland and the Prime Minister of Moldova.
Our speakers today, who you can quote as senior administration officials, will get us started with some background information about these meetings, and then we will take some of your questions. Let’s limit it to one question per person.
And with that, I will let our first speaker get started.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, everybody, for joining the call today. A little while ago the Vice President finished a meeting with Georgian Prime Minister Garibashvili, a meeting that President Obama joined for a portion, where both the President and the Vice President reaffirmed America’s commitment to Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders, and made clear that the U.S. has a profound interest in Georgia’s success.
After the 2012 parliamentary elections, and the 2013 presidential elections, Georgia has completed its first peaceful democratic transfer of power, a historic achievement for Georgia and for the region as a whole.
And this was the Prime Minister’s first visit to Washington. He’s only been in office for just a few months, but we wanted to be able to engage the new government early on to demonstrate our strong commitment not just to the new government, but to the people of Georgia and to Georgia’s continued democratic development and economic progress.
The Vice President and the President spoke to Prime Minister Garibashvili about Georgia’s role as a valued partner to NATO in Afghanistan, and made clear that a Georgia that's working towards peace and stability, that has strong democratic institutions and rule of law and that is growing economically can have a positive influence in the region and beyond. And we’re ready to support all of Georgia’s political and party leaders and Georgian civil society as they work to consolidate Georgia’s democratic achievements.
Next Monday, the Vice President will also be meeting with Moldovan Prime Minister Leanča. The Moldovan government is also new. They’ve been in office for less than a year, and face their own challenges from working towards a comprehensive settlement to end the frozen conflict on its territory, to continuing the hard work of building a modern and democratic state.
Moldova also has the strong and steadfast support of the United States as it undertakes these challenges, which the Vice President will stress just as he did when he visited Moldova back in 2011.
The United States would also like to see a comprehensive settlement to the Transnistria Conflict and gives our full support to the OSCE “5-plus-2” negotiations, the next round of which will take place in Vienna later this week, and which the Vice President will discuss with the Prime Minister when he’s here next Monday.
The fact that Moldova also initialed an association agreement with the EU in November represents a choice the Moldovan people have made to move their country forward, and we support that choice to pursue European integration. The association agreement includes a free trade agreement, which when signed and ratified will offer Moldova significant economic opportunity through greater access to one of the world’s largest markets. And that won’t just benefit Moldova but the region as a whole.
In addition to the Vice President’s meetings with the Georgian and Moldovan leaders, he’ll also have the opportunity to confer with Swiss President and Chairperson in Office of the OSCE, President Burkhalter, of Switzerland.
We have a strong and important friendship with the Swiss that spans a whole range of regional and global issues. The Swiss protect U.S. interests in Iran and Cuba and are working with us on everything from global health security to nonproliferation to development. And some of you may know that President Burkhalter is in Washington to testify before the U.S. Helsinki Commission, and we’re glad to have the opportunity to speak with him under both of his capacities.
Now, obviously this comes at an important time for the administration because it gives us the chance to compare notes with the OSCE on potential steps that the international community can take to help Ukrainian leaders deal with the some of the immediate and pressing challenges they face. And the OSCE in particular can offer assistance and expertise to lawmakers as they attempt to put together a new multi-party, unity government that can take the country forward in this difficult time.
We also believe that the Swiss chairmanship of the OSCE can be a positive force for progress through its roles as a mediator in the OSCE “5-plus-2” talks with Moldova, and as co-chair of the international Geneva discussions on Georgia, so this visit is particularly well timed.
Now, while we did not plan it this way, I’m sure many of you have noticed that these discussions are taking place against the backdrop of what’s happening in Ukraine. Vice President Biden has been deeply engaged, including nine phone calls over the course of the last several months to President Yanukovych, and meetings here in Washington with Ukrainian religious leaders. And his interventions at key moments have been designed to urge an immediate end to the use of violence and concrete steps forward toward compromise.
Let me just close with a couple of words about Russia. Our support for Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine is not part of some zero-sum game with Russia. Our engagement rather is aimed at supporting the people of these countries as they seek to fulfill their aspirations and make their own choices about their countries’ economic and political futures. Now they’ve chosen a European path, but we do not believe that the decision of these countries to pursue a European path should preclude them from having productive relations with Moscow, a point that we have made to Russian counterparts up and down the chain of command.
So with that, let me open it up to questions that I and my colleagues will do our best to answer.
Q Hi, it’s Margaret Talev with Bloomberg. I was just wondering if you could talk in a little bit more detail about how you’re hoping the conversations with these three countries can help, even with stability in Ukraine or with stability in these countries, and whether you also expect President Obama to pop in on the upcoming two meetings. If you can give us any detail about how long he participated in today’s meeting and what he actually said. Thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. With respect to today’s meeting, the President joined for about 20 minutes and had the opportunity to first congratulate the Prime Minister for Georgia’s success in completing its first peaceful, democratic transition of power. And then he urged both the Prime Minister and his delegation to continue working with all of Georgia’s leaders and with Georgian civil society to advance the rule of law and to consolidate the democratic achievements that they made so far.
The President and the Prime Minister discussed Georgia’s role in Afghanistan, where the President thanked the Georgian Prime Minister for the sacrifices that Georgian soldiers have made as the largest non-NATO contributor to the ISAF mission. And they talked about steps, concrete steps that both countries could take to increase trade and commercial ties, particularly to the benefit of the Georgian economy as it grapples with some economic challenges and challenging economic reforms.
We don’t expect that the President will drop in on the meeting with President Burkhalter or with Prime Minister Leanča.
In terms of how these meetings can help the countries of the region -- Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine -- I think many of the comments I made in the opening speak directly to that. For starters, being able at high levels to communicate the United States’ strong support for Georgia and Moldova, both in their efforts to take political, economic and security reforms at home, to resolve difficult conflicts, and to advance along the European path, and then to talk practically about the ways in which the United States can help support that will, I think, result in improved prospects for both of those countries.
For example, with Moldova, we have provided a five-year, $262-million Millennium Challenge compact that is supporting Moldova’s economy by rehabilitating infrastructure and providing technical assistance and access to finance to farmers in agri-business. And, with Georgia, the Prime Minister will also have the opportunity to sit down with Trade Representative Froman to talk about how we can carry our economic relationship forward.
And then, with respect to Ukraine, the OSCE we believe has a practical role to play in working to help bring about the kind of multi-party unity government to carry Ukraine forward. And so consultations between the Vice President and President Burkhalter can help shape that agenda.
And then I would just close by saying that the Vice President has a longstanding interest in and passion for this part of the world. And his personal relationships, those that he has built over many years and new ones that he is developing with new leaders in these countries, can go a long way towards helping create the kind of trust and platform for cooperation that will serve the interests of the United States and these countries.
Q You mentioned how this was not going to be a zero-sum game with Russia at the outset, but I wonder kind of -- I know you can say that, but the fact is that all of these kind of Western actions have been interpreted as such. If you look to NATO expansion and so on, and so on forth, those have been interpreted as threatening to Russia. And kind of how do you get around it if it’s constantly being interpreted in that way? And just -- yes, so that’s my question.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me start and I’ll ask my colleagues if they’d like to add. The most salient actions are not Western actions, they’re the actions of the people of these countries.
As I noted in my opening comments, Moldova and Georgia have both chosen to take steps along the path of Euro-Atlantic integration with association agreements. The people of Ukraine obviously have made their voices heard loud and clear about the kind of future that they are looking for. So the position of the United States has been consistent and clear that we don’t believe that any country -- the United States, any European country, or Russia -- can dictate the future of these nations in Eastern Europe and the Caucuses. It is up for the people of these countries through the democratic process to make their own decisions. And we are watching unfold in Ukraine today in very vivid terms but also in both Georgia and Moldova that set of choices.
As I said also at the outset, we don’t believe this is zero-sum, and that’s not just something that we say publically, that’s something that we say in intensive consultations with the Russians -- that a European path is not in any way inconsistent with productive relationships between these countries and Russia. And we believe that the stability and prosperity of the region will be best served if these countries pursue the European integration they’ve chosen and at the same time build stable and constructive relations with Russia moving forward. But let me see if my colleagues have anything to add to that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would just add that integration in the international economy and cooperation with international security organizations is something we want for Russia as well, and is something that we’ve worked on with Russia. We supported Russia’s WTO accession. We support Russia’s cooperation within the OSCE and with NATO, so this is part of our understanding of how countries do well and how they serve their citizens well. And we would want that for Russia as much as we want it for the countries that we’ve been talking about earlier today.
Q Hi, this is Lara Jakes with the AP. Thanks for doing the call. I’m just wondering, as you talk to the Georgian Prime Minister and you -- I’m sure there have been many talks with the Moldovans as well -- these are two nations that have gone through much of what, although not to the extent maybe what we’re seeing in Kyiv right now. And I’m just kind of wondering what advice the Georgian Prime Minister gave to the Vice President in terms of how the United States can help Ukraine as it goes through the transition.
And related to that, I’m wondering if you can shed a little bit of light on what kind of aid package the U.S. might be willing to supplement whatever the IMF is proposing, and what kind of parameters in terms of dollar values we’re looking at. Thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: In terms of the advice that the Prime Minister shared with the Vice President, I think he mainly focused on what we was hoping the United States would do in terms of its support to Georgia. But, of course, that is applicable to other countries in the region as well. And that is to extend and expand as much as possible our own commercial ties with Georgia, and at the same time work closely with our European partners to help complete the path of European integration. And that means moving from signing the association agreement -- or excuse me, initialing the association agreement with the European Union to ultimately signing it and pursuing a deep and comprehensive free-trade agreement.
And then, also, the importance of visits like this and personal connections like this to show the strong support that the United States has for shared values -- values of democratic development and open economies, and self-determination. And then for the United States also to stand up and be clear about our position, our very strong position on support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.
So he didn’t offer specific advice vis-à-vis Ukraine. He was much more focused on the bilateral relationship between the United States and Georgia, and Georgia’s European aspirations. But, of course, the conversation comes against the backdrop of what is happening in Ukraine, and many of the same lessons apply.
In terms of the package under discussion -- I always hate to punt on these kinds of things, but I would like to kick you to Treasury for the real details on it. However, I’ll turn it over to my colleague to talk through a little bit about what we’re trying to accomplish through economic support to Ukraine at this time.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Certainly, one of the big challenges facing Ukraine is its economic situation. And we’ve already been having discussions over the weekend with counterparts in Kyiv about a commitment on the part of the incoming Ukrainian government to economic reforms that would then unlock IMF financing for Ukraine and help return Ukraine to economic health.
The idea behind the package that the United States and European partners and others have been discussing would be to complement that IMF financing, the idea being that we understand the reforms that the Ukrainians will have to put in place are very difficult and the extent to which we can ease some of what goes along with those reforms is the aim of that complementary package.
And Secretary Lew is, as you know, that aware, was at G20 meetings over the weekend, where he was able to discuss this with that set of international partners and we will be continuing to do so.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And we’re just not in a position today to talk about specific dollar figures, but we recognize that the needs of the Ukrainian economy over the next two years are substantial and between the IMF and other efforts to work with a Ukraine that is pursuing these kinds of reforms, we believe that the will is there in the international community to meet those needs.
Q But -- I don’t know if this thing is still on or the mic is still open -- but is it fair to assume that whatever IMF package that is put together, supplemented by the U.S., that probably is not going to reach the $15 billion amount that Russia had promised the Ukraine some time ago?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I do not agree with that judgment. I think it’s clear that the IMF has actually the capacity to certainly loan Ukraine whatever the amount is that Ukraine needs. So I don’t think there is any concern that an IMF package could not meet whatever the economic needs are of Ukraine, and I think if you look at past negotiations that Ukraine has had with the IMF, they have been around that $15 billion number. But, again, because Ukraine’s economic situation has changed over the course of this year, the IMF would do a new assessment. But it is certainly poised to meet whatever those financing needs are.
Q Okay, thank you.
Q My question is, what challenges domestically and internationally does the U.S. administration foresee for Georgia as it proceeds with consolidating its democratic aid?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We’ll take this opportunity to make that the last question, a very good question.
Well, first let me start by saying that we see more opportunities in some ways than challenges because of the successful transfer -- peaceful, democratic transfer of power. It puts Georgia in a position to really deliver for its citizens and to allow them to live up to their potential. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t substantial challenges relating to strengthening the rule of law and relating to making the kinds of economic reforms and economic choices that are required for a sustainable economic future. And really in those two areas -- deepening Georgia’s democracy and modernizing and strengthening Georgia’s economy -- we are mindful of the difficult choices and decisions that are going to face the Prime Minister and his government. And those were the subject of intense conversation today between the Vice President and the President and with the Prime Minister.
But we believe that with good will and a strong commitment by all of Georgia’s leaders, the Georgian private sector, Georgian civil society, that they have the wherewithal to meet those challenges. I don’t know if my colleagues want to add anything to that. No. Okay.
MS. TROTTER: Well, that will be it for us. Thanks, everyone.
4:53 P.M. EST