the WHITE HOUSEPresident Barack Obama

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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Gaggle by Senior Administration Officials en route Brussels, Belgium, 3/25/2014

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Brussels, Belgium 

9:05 P.M. CET

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I can give you a readout of the two bilats and then I can give you a quick preview of the speech tomorrow, because I know people are interested in that.  So with that, I'll turn it over to my colleague and boss here.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Hey, everybody.  I'm going to give you a brief readout of, in the first instance, the bilateral with Mohammed Bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of UAE, and then the trilateral with the President of Korea and the Prime Minister of Japan.

The first meeting with Mohammed Bin Zayed was very warm and cordial.  It was an opportunity for the two leaders who have spoken a number of times on the phone of late to actually have the opportunity to, in person, discuss developments in the region, to reaffirm the strategic significance and importance of our bilateral relationship and the United States’ vital role in the Gulf region.

The Crown Prince made absolutely clear that our strategic interests are aligned, as did the President of the United States, and that even when we may on occasion have tactical differences, that, in fact, whether we're talking about Egypt or Iran or Syria or any of the pressing issues of the day in the region, fundamentally we have shared interests and shared objectives, and we're cooperating every day on a full range of issues -- the economic agenda, the security agenda, the energy agenda, and to promote the counterterrorism agenda, to promote greater peace and stability in the region.

It was also an opportunity for the President, on the eve of his travels to the Gulf, to hear directly from a valued partner of the United States about the situation there and to have the opportunity to share perspectives on what would be the most fruitful in terms of his visit down in Saudi Arabia.

So, all in all, a very valuable and worthwhile exchange.

On the trilateral with President Park and Prime Minister Abe, as you heard in their opening statements, the tone was very constructive, very roll-up-the-sleeves and collaborative, and that tone endured throughout the meeting itself.  There was not in any shape or fashion a discordant note.  Indeed, all three reaffirmed the critical value of the alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea, the United States and Japan, and the centrality of our trilateral cooperation on matters of regional security, as well as matters of diplomacy.

The bulk of the meeting was about North Korea but also other regional security concerns, and all emphasized the value that they place on strengthening and deepening trilateral cooperation, whether in the diplomatic sphere or the security sphere.

And we're confident that this is an opportunity to strengthen and deepen these ties, and we look forward to the defense ministers meeting in trilateral format in the near term, and we will continue to concert our diplomacy as it relates not only to North Korea but to a variety of shared challenges in the region.

I'm happy to take a couple questions on this, and then I'll turn it to my colleague for other issues.

Q    Did they make any reference to the recent strains between them and how they might try to get past that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  No, they didn’t refer to any strains.  They referred to the importance they attach to working together and presenting to one another and to the world the value they attach on their relationships.

Q    Did the President attempt to at least tell them to get beyond whatever strains there are so that they could focus on the task at hand, North Korea and so on?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  It wasn’t necessary.  They came with that spirit and that was the spirit of the entire meeting, and I think all felt that it was productive and a very worthwhile and mutually affirming engagement.

Q    On the UAE meeting, you said that he shared perspectives on what would be most fruitful for the President to do and say in Saudi Arabia.  What kinds of things did he suggest?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, I'm not going to get into the private conversations between the leaders, but I think obviously the countries in the Gulf place particular importance on Saudi Arabia as a political and spiritual leader of the region, and they’re very much appreciative of the fact that the President will travel to Saudi Arabia and have the opportunity to spend in-depth time with the King of Saudi Arabia.  And so the discussion was about the value that all of the leaders of the region attach to that.

Q    Was the Kazakhstan meeting just mostly nuclear security, or did they talk about Ukraine?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  The Kazakhstan meeting was brief but wide-ranging.  It included the obvious issues of the day, but also the nuclear security agenda and other issues on the bilateral agenda.

Q    Just something from the summit earlier -- we saw reports that they had done a scenario involving a dirty bomb.  Can you talk about that at all? 

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  One of the sessions was focused on a scenario in which the leaders had to respond to the prospect of a radiological weapon.  This was to reinforce the necessity of the elimination of nuclear materials and the security of those nuclear materials, which is at the centerpiece of the summit’s agenda, and to make people wrestle with the types of challenges that we’d be faced with if we don't complete the work of the summit process, which is in securing these materials around the world.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Any more on those two bilats?  Otherwise I'm going to turn it over to my colleague.

Q    In the UAE meeting, when they discussed the upcoming visit to Saudi Arabia, to what extent did energy issues play a role in the agenda?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Touched upon but not central. 

Q    And dealing with the Syrian rebels in terms of arming them or providing other types of assistance?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Obviously, Syria was on the agenda, and the importance of our bilateral as well as regional cooperation to deal with the threat that Assad’s continued atrocities pose to all of us but also dealing with the extremist threat were on the agenda.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Do you want a speech preview real quick?

Q    Yes.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Okay, so tomorrow throughout the course of the day the President is going to meet with two of our principal European institutional partners.  With the EU he can discuss the continued effort to impose costs on Russia but also support the people of Ukraine, including the economic assistance package that we are going to be a part of.  And with NATO he will discuss specific steps that we are taking to reinforce and reassure the security of our Eastern European allies. 

The speech itself is an opportunity for him to step back and look at the current events in Ukraine in a broader context. Standing at the heart of Europe in Brussels, the center of the European project, he will be able to speak about the importance of European security, the importance of not just the danger to the people of Ukraine but the danger to the international system that Europe and the United States have invested so much in that is a consequence of Russia’s actions.  But he’ll also be able to speak more broadly about why the alliance between the United States and Europe is so important to European security but also to the progress of democracy and the sustainment of international law around the world.

So, essentially, taking this moment of crisis in Europe to reinforce the importance of a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace both to the people of the United States and Europe, but also to the world -- because ultimately this has been an anchor of the international system that we've spent decades to build, and it's that international system that has been put at risk by Russia’s recent actions.

Q    First of all, are you on the record on the speech, or was that on background?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  We'll do the whole thing on background.

Q    In the President’s remarks today he juxtaposed the superpower of the U.S. with the weakness of Russia, calling it a regional power.  Is that a juxtaposition that we'll see as explicitly in his remarks tomorrow?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yes, I think essentially the point the President is making is that Russia doesn’t -- as we’ve said, Russia does not lead a bloc of nations or a global ideology as the Soviet Union did; that their actions threaten their neighboring states, but the reason that those have such broader consequences is that those actions also undermine the international system more generally.

So I think it's a necessary context that this not be seen as a Cold War in the sense that Russia is not a separate pole analogous to the Soviet Union.  They are, as the President said, a power exerting themselves in the region.  But again, the reason we take that so seriously is both because of our commitment to the security of Europe and the ability of the people of Ukraine to make their own decisions, but also because it undermines the international system when there is such flagrant violations of international law.

Q    Does giving Russia that kind of attention in effect elevate its status as bigger than just a regional power?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, again, he’s not going to spend his entire speech on this topic, in fact, precisely because he’s going to discuss the broader necessity of the United States and Europe working together and continuing the project that we began in the 20th century to build the type of international system that guarantees the rights of individuals as well as the rights of nations.  And so really what we're talking about is how does the international system respond to violations of international law.  That applies to Russia; that could apply in other instances.  That applies to Iran not meeting its nuclear obligations.  That applies to Syria massacring its people.  So, fundamentally, this is about the international system that we have invested in, that we lead, together with our allies.

Q    Is NATO ready for this task, or does it need bolstering?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  NATO is ready.  There’s no question that NATO is prepared to defend any ally against any aggression.  And we've actually done planning to assure that every NATO member state assures that they have an Article 5 contingency plan, that their security can be provided for.  However, to reassure them, we do think we should take additional steps.  We've already deployed Baltic air policing -- additional planes over the Baltic countries.  We've deployed an aviation detachment to Poland.  We are looking at doing more things like that. 

In his discussions with the Secretary General tomorrow, we'll be discussing very specifically what more can be done in terms of signaling concrete reassurance to our Eastern European allies.

Q    Do you expect an announcement out of the meeting in that regard?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I expect them to certainly share ideas about what the United States might do to provide that reassurance and what other countries in NATO may do going forward.  I don't want to get ahead of the meeting itself, but they’ll certainly be discussing specific ideas.

Q    How will the President develop his argument on NATO tomorrow?  And have you guys been under pressure from allies to make the security guarantee absolutely clear?  And is there any real fear that Putin would actually do what he’s done in Ukraine, in a NATO country?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  We believe that our allies know that the security guarantee is real, in part because we've done Article 5 contingency planning since we came to office.  They’ve also appreciated the reassurance we've already provided. I think what they want to see is a tangible manifestation of support.  That's why the planes over the Baltics are so important.  That's why the additional presence in Poland is important.  Those are the types of steps that we want to continue to take so that there’s a visible guarantor of their security.  That's the type of thing they’ll be discussing. 

But we -- look, NATO is completely unrivaled in terms of its military power.  In terms of Russia’s threats, again, we are prepared to defend our NATO allies against any aggression.  We have not seen any indication that Russia is looking to escalate this, but that doesn’t mean we're not going to be prepared for any contingency.

9:19 P.M. CET