the WHITE HOUSEPresident Barack Obama

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The White House
Office of the Vice President
For Immediate Release

Background Press Briefing by a Senior Administration Official on the Vice President's Trip to Poland and Lithuania

Aboard Air Force Two
En Route Vilnius, Lithuania

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Try to do this efficiently.  In the Vice President’s three statements today, he spoke for himself and gave I think pretty good readouts of his meetings, so I’m not going to go into real detail.  I’ll focus instead on answering your questions.

Let me just say at the outset that his purpose in going to Warsaw was to reassure our allies -- both Poland and the Estonian President, who he met there of the United States’ bedrock commitment to Article 5, to consult with them on the situation in Ukraine, and to discuss both longer term strategic posture issues relating to energy security or economic cooperation and the future of NATO as we head towards the fall summit in Wales.

And those were the things he set out to do, and those were the things he did.  So in terms of getting into more specifics or addressing questions, why don't I just open it up?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  And just as a reminder, I think he said it at the top, but this is on background as a senior administration official.  I just wanted to remind folks of that.

Q    Can you tell us a bit more, can you be a bit more descriptive of what they're talking about in terms of diversifying energy sources and supplies?  It was a little technical at times.  And I’m just wondering if you could try to explain to me a little bit what’s on the table?  What are they pursuing.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, there are a few issues at play here; some short-term issues relating to Ukraine’s energy security.  And they discussed potential reverse flow, which is the flow of gas supplies from Poland and Hungary into Ukraine if need be.

It’s also worth noting that because of a milder than usual winter, Europe itself has elevated levels of gas supplies, which puts them on a better footing than they would ordinarily be at a time like this.

Then there’s the medium and longer term where in Poland you have the issue of shale gas --

Q    I just can't hear you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  In Poland you have the issue of shale gas.  The U.S. has worked closely with the Poles, both in terms of technology with our companies, and in terms of their regulatory structure in Poland to exploit shale reserves.  And there have been a number of regulatory challenges along the way.  And just two weeks ago after the advent of this crisis, the Polish government actually took some steps forward in terms of the legal regime that opened a space considerably for potential exploitation of those resources. 

Obviously, there’s the issue of U.S. LNG, which is more the long-term issue.  As many of you know, it’s the Department of Energy that approves conditional licenses based on a variety of factors, including economic, energy security, environmental and geopolitical factors.  And they’ve approved six licenses so far totaling 8.5 billion cubic feet that can go to both FTA countries and non-FTA countries, like Europe.  But the first of those wouldn’t come online until next year at the earliest, and others well beyond that, so that is a longer term proposition.

But they had the opportunity to touch based on U.S. LNG supplies.  And for our part, as I said last night, the United States is obviously reviewing and considering what we can and should do domestically to serve both our interests and the interests of our European partners.

And then beyond that, there are broader questions in terms of regulation, in terms of pipelines, in terms of usage -- energy efficiency -- that all relate to building overall energy security in Europe.  So as I described last night, and as the Vice President reiterated today:  Energy can't be used as a political weapons.

Q    Did any conclusions actually come out of this?  Or was it more of a discussion?  In other words, have Poland and Hungary decided yes, we will do some reverse flows to Ukraine?  And has the U.S. decided, yes, we will either provide fuel or help fund fuel to Ukraine beyond what’s already been announced?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I’ll let Poland speak for itself on the reverse flow issue.  And in terms of U.S. LNG, there weren’t any decisions taken in this meeting.  This wouldn’t be the appropriate place to do that.  But it was an opportunity to talk about the strategic picture over the medium term and how it is that Europe puts itself in the best position going forward.  This is an argument that the U.S. has been making to Europe for some time.  And there are an increasing number of champions within the European Union to improve the overall energy security picture now, and I think you can expect that in the coming weeks, the U.S. will be having robust engagements with our European partners on a lot of the practical and technical questions around this.

Q    Can you talk about the possibility of the U.S. rotating troops into the Baltic region?  Is this an expansion of the existing air patrol program?  Or is this a more substantial new program that we would be launching?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, first of all, we have augmented the Baltic air patrol by adding additional planes.  And we’ve also encouraged other allies to do the same thing, including the British and the Poles and others.

What the Vice President was referring to today is actually increased rotations of ground and naval forces to participate in training exercises and training missions so that over time we improve the capabilities of the Baltic nations and improve our interoperability with them.  So this would be in addition to the Baltic Air Policing element, it would be a ground and naval effort.  And what the Vice President said is that we’ve begun the process of exploring how we can do that in a way that's effective both for our forces and for the Baltic forces.  But you can expect to see more details on that in the days ahead.

Q    Just to clarify, that would be the first time, though, that we would be putting ground or naval troops specifically in the Baltics, is that correct?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  It wouldn’t be stationing troops there.  It would be a rotation of troops going to do training exercises of sorts.  And at present we obviously have forces stationed in Lithuania at the air base supporting the mission, so this would not be a fundamental expansion of -- or kind of crossing of a basic line so to speak.  It’s more an opportunity to enhance our capacity to do training with them actually in the region, as opposed to bringing them to the United States or doing it elsewhere.

Q    Just to -- a question on the air policing, the Vice President alluded to the fact that the U.S.’s rotation would be up and the Poles will come in.  Do those extra planes, are they attached to the operation regardless?  Or do those planes come out when the U.S. rotates out of it, then it’s dependent on who the next partner is who comes in?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  So the U.S. planes will rotate out on the presumption that essentially an equal number of planes from allies will rotate in.  And we have strong reason to believe that that is what will happen, that the continued elevated level of aircraft stationed in the Baltics will persist beyond the time of our deployment.  If for whatever reason that changes, obviously, we’ll take a close look at making sure that that number stays elevated.

Q    The date?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I’ll have to check, but I believe it’s April, the end of April that our rotation comes offline and Poland and other allies will come online.

Q    The folks that Biden talked to today seemed to have some tough words about the U.S. and its allies not doing enough to stem Russian military buildup in years past; specifically the Polish President said some pretty strongly worded things about this shouldn’t have been a surprise to anybody, we should take this as a lesson learned.  I know that the Vice President did respond to that in his remarks a little bit, but I’m just curious what does he and the rest of the administration make of those criticisms, especially as he’s meeting -- observing conveyed to him during these meetings these past couple days?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, I will say that the level of gratitude that was expressed by both the Polish President and the Polish Prime Minister, as well as the Estonian President, was commensurate with the rather remarkable investment the United States has made in the security of Poland and Estonia, as well as our other Baltic partners.

Whether it’s the 10,000 Polish troops a year that participate in security cooperation exercises with the United States, or it’s the Baltic Air Policing that we’re doing, or it’s bringing the three Baltic Presidents to the U.S. for a summit meeting with our President last year, or it’s up and down Russia’s periphery -- from Bulgaria and Romania all the way up to the Baltics, the intensive training, exercising, intelligence sharing, you name it in the security realm, and the United States is doing it, so we’re very proud of the work that we’ve done through NATO to support these countries.  And these countries are very grateful to the United States for what we’ve done.

In terms of the Russian military buildup, obviously we’ve been watching that closely since the invasion of Georgia.  And it’s been no surprise that the Russians have been developing a range of their capabilities.  And what we have sought to do over the last five years is ensure as much transparency as possible in that, and then most importantly provide the manpower, the equipment, the capacity building, the intelligence sharing and every other dimension of security cooperation to all of our allies, especially our frontline allies.  And I think our record on that really speaks for itself over the last five years.

Q    Just one on sanctions?  I didn't hear a lot in the readouts today explicitly about sanctions.  And I’m wondering what the Vice President heard from the allies about I guess fears of retaliation because of sanctions, or fears from these countries about how Russia might retaliate.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  He heard from both the Estonians and the Poles that they will go to the European leaders meeting later this week prepared to advocate for increasing the costs on Russia for its continued violations of international law.  Poland and Estonia will be two advocates for that proposition when the leaders gather later this week.

I don't want to go into more detail than that because I’d like to let them speak for themselves.  But over the course of the last few weeks, I think both Poland and Estonia have made their views pretty plain about what they're prepared to stand up for, and you heard the Estonian President today speak very passionately on this subject.

Q    Did the Vice President share his views, his passionate views on how Europe needs to do more than just worry about the price of gas?  Like he put it very strongly, does the Vice President agree with that?  He sort implied that he did.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, it was a colorful way of putting it to contrast the price of gas and the price of values.  And he let the Estonian President speak for himself.

What the U.S. administration and the Vice President have said all along is that the United States and Europe need to remain very closely coordinated in ensuring that there are continuing costs and increasing political and economic isolation for Russia in response to this.