Moderator: Good evening. I’d like to welcome everyone joining us for today’s virtual press briefing. Today we are very honored to be joined by Ambassador Julianne Smith, U.S. Permanent Representative to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
We’ll try to get to as many questions as possible in the 30 minutes we have today, so please show your support the like the questions you’d most like us to cover. You can notify us of any technical difficulties by using the chat box or by emailing us at the Brussels Hub at state.gov.
With that, let’s get started. Ambassador Smith, thank you so much for joining us today. I’ll turn it over to you for your opening remarks.
Ambassador Smith: Well, thank you very much, and good evening to those of you who are joining from this side of the Atlantic, and good afternoon to anybody dialing in from the U.S. side. Let me just begin by giving you a big of a recap of what happened today here at NATO headquarters. Following her participation in the Strategic Stability Dialogue yesterday, which you all know took place in Geneva, Deputy Secretary Sherman’s first stop was to NATO this morning, where she was able to meet with Secretary General Stoltenberg. And in that meeting they discussed tomorrow’s NATO-Russia Council, they affirmed our shared commitment to dialogue and diplomacy, and noted that we need to – we need Russia to take concrete actions to de-escalate tensions in order for diplomacy to succeed.
Following this signals check early this morning, Deputy Sherman then briefed the full North Atlantic Council on her SSD talks in Geneva. And as the deputy said in her press call last night, the United States is committed to diplomacy, and at the SSD the deputy made clear that diplomacy provides the only durable path for resolving the security concerns of Russia and the United States. But we stand firm in pushing back on security proposals that are simply non-starters. We will not allow anyone to slam NATO’s “Open Door” policy shut, which has been, of course, a hallmark of the Alliance since it was created in 1949.
Later in the afternoon the deputy then met in smaller groups with all NATO members before she then headed downtown to participate in a meeting of the EU’s Political and Security Committee. I stress all these consultations to emphasize that the United States remains in lockstep with all of our allies and partners. As the deputy herself noted last night, “We will not make decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine, about Europe without Europe, or about NATO without NATO.”
In short, we are committed to the principle of “nothing about you without you,” which I know you’ve heard from Secretary Blinken, among others.
This week’s discussions – including those yesterday and today, the NRC tomorrow, and the OSCE meeting in Vienna on Thursday – are part our extensive diplomacy with our European allies and partners in developing a united approach to Russia’s unprovoked military buildup along Ukraine’s borders and our joint efforts to encourage Russia to choose diplomacy and de-escalate in the interest of Euro-Atlantic security and stability. In addition, I participated just yesterday in a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council here in Brussels. The U.S. continues to offer unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity. We stand with our partner Ukraine and we condemn Russian aggression against Ukraine in all forms.
But let’s be clear. Russian actions have precipitated this crisis. We are committed to using diplomacy to de-escalate the situation, and we will do so in lockstep with our NATO Allies and our European partners. NATO is open and committed to a meaningful, reciprocal dialogue with Russia, but at the same time we stand united to deter threats against NATO Allies and further Russian aggression against our partners in Europe.
Should Russia follow the path of confrontation and military action, we’ve made it clear to the Kremlin that we will respond resolutely, including with a range of high-impact economic measures. As an Alliance, we are prepared to reinforce NATO’s defense on the eastern flank, and we are prepared to impose severe costs for further Russian aggression in Ukraine.
Over the past months we have communicated our concerns directly to Russia, and tomorrow is yet another opportunity for diplomacy to move forward. Our message, however, remains the same. We want to see the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements, with Russia pulling back its forces. But if Russia pursues confrontation, there will be serious consequences.
Thank you for your interest, and again for joining us today, and I’d be happy to take a few questions.
Moderator: We will now turn to the question-and-answer portion of today’s briefing. Our first question goes to Dorota Bawolek with Polsat TV in Poland. “What can we expect from the NATO-Russia Council tomorrow?”
Ambassador Smith: Well, what we can expect from the NATO-Russia Council tomorrow is that all of the Allies will walk in the room tomorrow united around a couple of things. They’re united in their resolve should Russia decide to pursue further aggression inside Ukraine – and they’ve made that clear in various NAC statements – but they are also united in their commitment right now, tomorrow, to dialogue. And everyone, all the Allies, are coming to the table united in their view that this is something that we need to take on together.
The United States has been in close consultation with its Allies throughout this process and in recent weeks and months. And after the discussions today, I think all of us are feeling like we’re prepared for the conversation tomorrow. In terms of what will happen, of course, no one has a crystal ball, and we’ll have to wait to see what the outcome of the NRC is tomorrow.
Moderator: Thank you very much for answer. The next question comes to us from Kristina Zeleniuk with TSN Ukrainian TV Channel 1. “If negotiations between the U.S. and Russia fail, what will Washington and NATO do? How will they defend Ukraine?”
Ambassador Smith: Well, I think what’s been clear is that the United States has been offering assistance, security assistance, to Ukraine throughout the last year. And we have continued to assess the security needs of our friends in Kyiv to better understand what their requirements are. Of course, I can’t really address a hypothetical. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. And again, I think right now we’re all trying to be open-minded. We’re trying to remain clear-eyed about the challenges. I don’t think any of us are feeling particularly optimistic. I don’t think any of us are feeling particularly pessimistic. But we are committed to walking through that door tomorrow morning and beginning a conversation in the NATO-Russia Council to see if we can allow diplomacy to de-escalate this conflict.
Moderator: Thank you very much. Just as a reminder to reporters online, you can click “Raise Hand” and we can connect you up by voice. In the meantime, we have a question here from Catherine Phillip. “Has the U.S. promised to give written answers to Russia’s draft treaty demands, as Moscow officials are saying?”
Ambassador Smith: I think right now what we’re prepared to talk about is the commitment we’ve made to reciprocal dialogue, and that we are focused right now on completing a series of three sets of engagements. It started yesterday in Geneva. We will continue a dialogue tomorrow in the NRC. And then of course, as I noted, we have the OSCE engagement in Vienna. Let’s wait until we get through those three engagements before we make broad predictions on what comes next.
Moderator: Great. Thank you very much for that. Our next question comes to us from Nick Schifrin with PBS Newshour. Please go ahead.
Question: Ambassador, thank you very much. I understand that the policy of both Washington and Brussels is not to allow anyone to shut the door or shut the open door. But can you discuss the agenda tomorrow, whether even there will be a discussion of Russia’s requests, as written out in the draft treaty and draft agreement that were distributed last month, as relates to NATO policy? Have you agreed to even discuss that? And will you be discussing the actual language in those draft Russian statements or not? Thanks.
Ambassador Smith: Well, we obviously have to wait and see what the Russians say when they get to the table. And we don’t exactly know how they are going to approach the conversation. But what I can tell you is that in our prior consultations and meetings with allies in the NAC and other fora, it has become crystal clear that not a single ally inside the NATO Alliance is willing to budge or negotiate anything as it relates to NATO’s “Open Door” policy. The Alliance’s commitment to Article 10 of the Washington Treaty remains firm, and I cannot imagine any scenario where that is up for discussion.
Moderator: Thank you very much for that. Our next question comes to us from Denis Dubrovin with the TASS News Agency. His question is: “Have you managed to reach any common ground with Russians in Geneva to build on the NRC meeting, or are you going to start over the same discussion in Brussels with different participants?”
Ambassador Smith: Well, look, I think there are some common themes to the three engagements. I mean, we’re broadly talking about risk reduction, Right? So there was an out-brief, as I spoke about earlier –a few minutes ago – by the deputy secretary, where she was able to share what happened in Geneva with NATO Allies. And then I presume there will be some sort of conversation after the NRC to then pass on how the NRC went to the folks that’ll be managing the next engagement of the three engagements.
But, yeah, I think there are some broad themes. I mean, we’re focused on transparency. We’re focused on risk reduction. The theme of arms control runs through all three engagements. So they each take a slightly different form. Obviously, we have different folks at the table. Geneva was an incredibly small, bilateral discussion. We’re widening the circle, which is very important to the United States, to include our Allies at the table. And then the circle gets even wider when we get to Vienna.
Moderator: Thank you very much for that. Our next question comes to us from Levan Akhalaia with Georgian Public – Georgian Public Broadcaster: “Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov said that Russia wants NATO to change the decision made at the 2008 Bucharest Summit. What would be your answer to that?”
Ambassador Smith: Well, again, that 2008 Bucharest Summit was the summit where the Alliance made a very firm statement on NATO’s open door, and it spoke specifically about enlargement towards Ukraine and Georgia, not whether but when. And as that relates to the debate about the future of NATO’s “Open Door” policy, again, let me just reiterate that that is a non-starter, that there will be no negotiating over NATO’s “Open Door” policy as it stands today.
Moderator: Great. Our next question comes to us from Alex Gorbachev with VOA: “Could you comment on Ryabkov’s statement that NATO has to clear out and withdraw to the 1997 borders?”
Ambassador Smith: Well, I think when you talk to NATO Allies, one thing becomes clear in terms of consensus at the table, and that is that this Alliance is not going to be rolling back time and returning to a completely different era where we had a very different Alliance that was smaller and a very different footprint. I think we’re operating in today’s world with NATO as it stands today, and I don’t think anyone inside the NATO Alliance is interested in going back in time to revisit an era where NATO looked a lot different than it does today.
Moderator: Great. Our next question comes to us from David Herszenhorn with Politico. Please go ahead.
Question: Yeah, thanks so much. Thanks, Ambassador. I wonder if you could talk about what differences you expect in this conversation as the circle widens. As you mentioned, what other issues might come forward? For example, do you expect the Brits to raise the issue of chemical weapons? And given the repeated statements that you and the deputy secretary have made about having Allies at the table, to what extent is the U.S. in a position or looking to lead? There may be some Allies in the Baltics who want to have even less of a conversation with Russia. Are there areas where you’re hoping to sort of move Allies along to sort of line up with the U.S. positions on what should be on the table and what’s not?
Ambassador Smith: Well, I don’t think there’s much lining up to do. I think all the conversations that I’ve joined with all three Allies at the table, there’s broad agreement that we are committed at this moment to dialogue. And everyone is prepared to join at the table tomorrow, and we have an agreed approach. And I think with a larger number of countries at the table, there will be a broader set of perspectives on how Russia has essentially been the main threat to European security over the past two decades.
And obviously, the countries that are sitting at the table have different perspectives on that. They’ve experienced that in different ways. And so I would expect Allies to express their own sets of concerns. But again, there’s widespread consensus across the Alliance on how we’re going to approach tomorrow’s discussion. I feel quite good about it.
Moderator: Our next question comes to us from Oskar Gorzynski with the Polish Press Agency. Please go ahead.
Question: Hi. Thanks for doing this, Ambassador. I hope you can hear me.
Ambassador Smith: Sure. Yes, I can.
Question: So yesterday, Deputy Secretary Sherman said that the U.S. has introduced some ideas to the Russians about limits on missile placement and the scale and scope of exercises. I wonder if you are going to introduce some additional ideas about some other things tomorrow, and also, if our missile defense systems in Europe are included in the arms control discussions on the missiles?
Ambassador Smith: Well, I think at this point what I would do is direct you towards the readout of the President’s call with President Putin, where I think President Biden made clear, and you’ve heard from others, that there’s some talk about the U.S.’s – the fact that the U.S. does not have a desire to place offensive missiles on Ukrainian territory. And you’ve heard both the Deputy Secretary Sherman and others mention the possible idea of a discussion of reciprocal restrictions on exercises.
But other than that, I wouldn’t go into much detail about tomorrow other than to say, again, the broad themes of risk reduction, transparency, arms control, and various ways in which we communicate with each other – that is, NATO and Russia – those types of baskets of discussions will be on the table.
Moderator: Thank you very much. Our next question comes to us from Alexandra Brzozowski with EURACTIV. The question is: “French President Macron has said there should be European proposals. What is your comment on this?”
Ambassador Smith: Well, that’s interesting because I – when I think of NATO, I think of Europe. There are a lot of European countries around the table. In fact, I think there’s only two countries that aren’t in Europe. So on the one hand, I think having the NATO-Russia Council meet tomorrow is a really important venue for transatlantic interaction with Moscow. And on the other hand, I think the administration has really done quite a bit of research – sorry, not research, outreach – to our friends in Brussels with the European Union. We’ve had several
consultations with them. And in fact, Deputy Secretary Sherman was downtown meeting with the EU earlier today.
So we are working this closely with our Allies on a regular basis, both through the European Union and through NATO. And I think there aren’t better places to be engaging our European Allies on Russia than those two institutions. Of course, I have to include the OSCE as well. But when you think about Brussels, the fact that we’ve engaged both the EU and NATO, I think it’s been very important, and frankly, very constructive.
Moderator: Great. And our final question will be from Bill Mauldin of the Wall Street Journal: “We know the U.S. view. But in conversations with your colleagues from other NATO countries, are they interested in working with Russia to identify things the Alliance could do or not do to contribute to better relations with Moscow? Is there any divide between eastern NATO members and the biggest European economies on whether to work with Russia?”
Ambassador Smith: No. I mean, again, as I noted at the top, the allies are coming in united. It’s really remarkable to see the level of unity and cohesion at this moment among Allies. Naturally, 30 Allies, you get a lot of different perspectives. But I think on all of the issues that matter, everything that we’re going to try and tackle in the next couple of days here, I do feel like there is widespread unity and consensus across the Alliance on the challenge that sits before us.
Moderator: Folks, I apologize. There’s an announcement going on in the background. So again, unfortunately that is all the time we have for today. Thank you for your questions and thank you very much to Ambassador Smith for joining us this evening. Very shortly, we will send the audio recording of the briefing to all the participating journalists and provide a transcript as soon as available. We’d also love to hear your feedback, and you can contact us at any time at the Brussels Hub tate.gov. Ambassador, do you have any closing remarks?
Ambassador Smith: No, just thanks for everyone’s interest, and really appreciate folks dialing in.
Moderator: Great. Well, thanks again for your participation.